SweatFree School Uniforms
Many schools in DC have required that students wear uniforms for a variety of reasons, and many across the district want to make sure these uniforms represent the values and integrity of DC public schools.
Each morning on the DC metro, as everyone rushes off to school and work, it is hard to miss the sea of school uniforms that fill the trains. Though not always popular amongst the students, a growing number of youth in the region are required to wear uniforms. Considering that so many DC schools have made them mandatory, ILRF began to wonder about where are these uniforms purchased and what are the rights of the workers producing them?
As the sale of school uniforms remains a multi-million dollar industry, the exploitation of cheap labor by clothing companies continues to go unnoticed. While this issue may not be of immediate interest to the children that wear them, the students are aware of the fact that they are often excluded from the decision making process; deciding what will be worn and from where it will be purchased. By incorporating students into this process, both students and workers abroad can benefit from raised awareness and education.
In an innovative way to reach out to DC youth, the school uniform campaign teaches students their role in a globalized economy. Students will have the chance to make connections between the clothes they wear on their backs, and the millions of workers living abroad. The DC schools that require students to wear uniforms should be held accountable for where these uniforms are purchased and give the students a say in the matter. Through this campaign, DC schools will have the opportunity to educate students on the growing importance of globalization, and what part they play in this international movement. Even if students resent the idea of wearing uniforms each day, they should be included in the uniform policies that are applied to them. In addition, this will give them the chance to better understand the meaning of a global economy and its ties to social justice.
It is shocking to find out that many school uniforms continue to be made in sweatshops overseas, where working conditions are terrible and workers’ demands are ignored. Being as bulk purchasing of school uniforms is extremely profitable to the types of retail companies that outsource their labor abroad, it is vital to hold these suppliers accountable for their workers’ rights. With the support of DC schools, ILRF is working to empower students to realize their connection to global workers and the role they play as consumers.
Our goal is to educate DC youth about the school uniform supply chain, and empower them to become engaged with those in their schools making decisions about their uniforms. By providing youth with valuable lessons in civic participation and policy reform, they will be equipped to take on issues of social justice that connect them to the outside world. Students have the ability to influence school policies, and can become part of the decision-making process at their schools.
Starting in 2007, ILRF worked with Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy - Parkside Campus. For the Fall Semester 2008, ILRF will be implementing in-class sessions in both Cardozo High School and the Columbia Heights Educational Campus. The sweat-free uniform campaign will be presented as an interactive seminar in social studies courses ranging from World History to Street Law. Future involvement of other relevant courses and after school clubs are also hoped to be incorporated.
Active Student Involvement
In addition to an in-class seminar, students will be given the opportunity to develop their own advocacy-based project throughout the semester. Core activities include a student-led fashion show of sweat-free clothing and an informative scavenger hunt in local retail stores to investigate where products are made. The ultimate objective, to be completed by the end of the semester, is student-led research and a subsequent presentation to school officials proposing ways to incorporate a sweat-free procurement plan for school uniforms. The hybrid structure of this project, of experiential learning in and outside of the classroom, will motivate students to take part. Through active involvement, students will gain core skills in research, presentation and advocacy.
Join our Campaign!
In addition to our partnership with Cardozo and Columbia Heights Educational Campus, we are looking to expand the program to other schools and build support through interested organizations. If you or anyone you know might be interested in supporting the Sweat-free campaign, email the International Labor Rights Forum.