This just in from the National Labor Committee: In an article for his school newspaper, a 17-year-old Catholic high school student in Utah revealed that the school uniforms he and his compatriots were required to wear were, in fact, sewn in a sweatshop in El Salvador. His article may well change the policies in his district.
Who will be the next high school journalism hero? I challenge students everywhere to follow this lead and find out where your school uniforms, sports uniforms, and sporting equipment is manufactured. Is your school supporting the victimization of women and children? You can stop it!
Here's the story:
High school paper breaks big storyNext generation of muckrakers: Student journalists link Judge Memorial's uniform supplier to sweatshops in El Salvador
By Rhina Guidos
The Salt Lake Tribune
Ross Lordon is no Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein. He may not be able to bring down a presidency - or even the principal - but an article the high school journalist wrote may lead school officials at two Utah Catholic schools to learn more about the companies where they purchase uniforms.
In December, an article carrying Lordon's byline in Judge Memorial Catholic High School's student newspaper The Bulldog Press revealed that the private school's uniforms are made in sweatshops in El Salvador.
"People asked me, is this true?" recalled Lordon.
Students, parents, teachers and even the principal wanted to know. Lordon's article has been the talk at Judge, especially by those concerned that their money may be used to oppress people, even children.
Lordon, 17, said minor sleuth work - finding out which company made the uniforms - led him to charges by the National Labor Committee that Elderwear, the company that supplies the uniforms for Judge and Juan Diego Catholic High School, uses a U.S.-owned factory in El Salvador that pays workers substandard wages.
Workers are paid $4 for each 1,000 pieces completed, his article said. If students pay $30 for a pair of pants, he asked, where is the money going? And why can't workers, who make about $140 a month, receive a bigger cut of the profit?
Judge Principal Jim Hamburge, who chose the uniform company without knowing about the allegations, said he, too, wants answers.
"People say, 'Are you mad at what [the students] did?' I'm proud of what they did," Hamburge said, adding that he never considered censoring the story.
It's good to see that students are learning that certain choices have consequences in the world; it's an issue of human rights and Judge will try to respond to the problem, he said.
Hamburge will speak with officials at the company and then determine what the school will do about the uniforms, he said.
That doesn't mean that Judge will change uniform companies, but Hamburge said he will ask the company to ensure Judge officials that uniforms are not made at the expense of families and children.
What the students have done goes hand in hand with Catholic social teaching, said Barbara Stinson Lee, editor of Utah's Intermountain Catholic newspaper.
"It's laudable, I applaud the students," she said. "We should not be supporting people who are working people to death in order to make a profit. Catholic social teaching is looking at ourselves."
And the Catholic news media shouldn't shy away from controversy, even if it sheds unfavorable light on its institutions, she said.
The response to the article was unexpected, said the student paper's co-editor in chief Ian Shelledy. It's difficult to write an article that will resonate with a high school audience. But in the case of the sweatshop-uniform controversy, students, alumni, parents and teachers responded, he said.
"They were surprised that we were the first to find out," Shelledy said.
And now school uniforms are not the only concern to students, he added. The student journalists are planning follow-up articles on clothing companies that target young consumers. They may find out that it's harder to shop for street wear that doesn't exploit others, than for uniforms, he said.
"It's about awareness and this is the first step," Shelledy said.