By Molly Ashline, Staff Writer
Published in print Nov.5, 2014
Students gathered in Graham on Tuesday, October 28, to hear from a diverse panel of professors and student leaders about the nuanced complexities of sweatshops and the people who work in them.
The purpose of the panel was not only derived from a need to inform students about the horrors of the sweatshop environment, but also to raise awareness on the organizations involved in quelling the injustices of sweatshops through policy reform and to inspire students to get involved in protesting injustices in general.
The event was largely organized by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), but cosponsoring the panel were a number of groups, including the NAACP, the Student Power Union, UNCGreen, the Native American Student Association (NASA) and others. Dr. Gregory Knehans of the Political Science Department, Ericka Faircloth of NASA, and a representative from USAS comprised the panel.
Dr. Omar Ali of the African-American Studies Department was also on the panel, but he ceded his speaking time to Demetrius Noble, also of the African-American and Diaspora Studies.
Noble spoke for a short period of time before returning to the audience.
Dr. Knehans was the first to speak, and he discussed the unequitable nature of capitalism.
Knehans outlined his part of the discussion as follows: “Point number one is grasping the global flow of capitalism is the essential component to understanding what goes on in the world today,” Knehans said.
“Second point is that these global flows of capital take place on and reproduce a tremendously uneven terrain throughout the world, which has been conditioned by history. The third point is that these two things—this global flow and this uneven ground—is what’s necessary to understand the real meaning behind things like free trade, free market, comparative advantage, and other wonderful terms that economists and political scientists like to put out. Finally, the last point I’ll be making is that these flows –and there’s consequences, there it’s mass murder of workers in Bangladesh or the environmental destruction of our planet—are not reducible to this or that policy or personality or party or country…we have to aim higher, depending on how you want to look at it, lower, to fully understand what’s going on and to recognize that it is capital that is the problem.”
After Knehans spoke, Noble was invited to elaborate on capitalism as it functions in the world today.
Noble confirmed many of the points Knehans made, and the panel moved on to its next speaker, Ericka Faircloth.
Faircloth pointed out to the audience the need to understand other cultures, individuals who identify with specific cultures and how media often portrays cultures in a marginalized way. She also brought up the importance of unity within this understanding.
“Building bridges between communities is very important. When I say building bridges, I mean creating a pathway, so we can understand each other, and we’re not at each other’s throats…the media wants to break us apart. When they breawk us apart, we don’t have power, but when we are together, we are able to create a louder voice,” Faircloth said during her time.
After Faircloth concluded, the representative from the USAS began to speak about what the USAS has done in countries like Honduras and Bangladesh to create policies that give back-pay to workers, create safer working environments, and give workers a greater ability to seek restitution should companies violate these policies.
She also reiterated the fact the workers in sweatshops are individuals who endure terrible conditions daily. USAS is a national organization with student representatives on campus.
After all speakers finished their topics, a short Q&A took place with many students asking how they could become more active in protesting contemporary social issues.
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