Rose Zhou / Lantern photographer
A group of about 30 students went to the Oval Tuesday and took a seat to stand up for sweatshop workers.
United Students Against Sweatshops organized a lay-down to protest Ohio State’s possible affiliation with Silver Star Merchandising, an organization affiliated with the Dallas Cowboys football team. USAS argues that this possible merchandising deal, which would give Silver Star an exclusive merchandising deal for OSU apparel, should not be behind closed doors and should include students.
Lainie Rini, a first-year in social work, said the protest was meant to get the attention of university administrators and students.
“What this is, is a lay-down action saying that we won’t stand for sweatshop scandals. This gets the university’s attention and gets the attention of those walking by,” Rini said.
Rini said in addition to the sweatshop workers, USAS is standing up for the about 120 companies in a merchandising deal with the university.
“The university is considering a monopoly deal with the Dallas Cowboys’ merchandising line, Silver Star Merchandising,” Rini said. “That means they wouldn’t renew any of the old contracts, and that means they are killing 123 local businesses just for this one single source deal.”
Neither Silver Star Merchandising nor the Dallas Cowboy’s organization were able to be reached for comment.
Natalie Yoon, a third-year in international studies, said students from USAS have visited some sweatshops in El Salvador and brought back a letter addressed to OSU, pleading with the administration to not make this deal.
Rini said USAS has also written several letters to President E. Gordon Gee, pleading him to re-evaluate the deal and involve students in the process. Rini said these letters are helpful, but that meetings with administrators are most helpful.
University spokesman Jim Lynch told The Lantern in January that OSU is talking to license apparel companies, including Silver Star Merchandising, about an exclusive apparel model.
“The university has been engaged with USAS representatives and has been having good conversations with them about their concerns,” Lynch said. “We are hopeful that our continued dialogue with them will help us advance the broader issues of how to continue to improve social responsibility programming.”
Rini said they expect administrators to get a deal done soon, and that’s why USAS has increased their protest.
“We’re having a whole week of action surrounding this Cowboys campaign. We’ve been having study-ins everyday,” Rini said.
In USAS’s visits to sweatshops in El Salvador, they said they saw hardships firsthand that and the students of USAS do not want their university involved with an organization that mistreats its workers.
“We have … reports from the Workers Rights Consortium that (Silver Star Merchandising) abuses their workers in sweatshops, and if this monopoly deal gets signed, then we have no leverage to get them to stop abusing their workers,” Rini said.
In its attempts to raise awareness, USAS managed to catch the attention of several students, either through reaching out to them or simply blocking their path.
Rory Kelly, a first-year in engineering, was walking by and stopped to read protester’s signs.
“I had no clue,” Kelly said. “I don’t know who currently makes our clothes, but I had no idea they were planning on moving it over to the Cowboys’ (merchandising company).”
USAS also obtained emails between Rick Van Brimmer, OSU’s trademark licensing director, and Bill Priakos, chief operating officer for Dallas Cowboys merchandising. In one of the emails, Van Brimmer responds to questions from Priakos about making a bid.
“The only caveat is that I may be forced into looking at ‘bids,’ simply because we are a state agency. But don’t fear that process,” Van Brimmer wrote to Priakos.
Because of the communication between Van Brimmer and Priakos, USAS argues that Silver Star should be disqualified from the bidding process.