“Because of what I’m in love with doing, I’m not able to pay my bills,” Milton said, speaking to students at UNC on Wednesday.
“The students don’t really know what’s going on, but later on they will. Eventually someone will need to take care of their grandparent.”
Students came out to support local low-wage workers and Bangladeshi factory workers at the Sweatshop Worker Speakout, an event hosted by Student Action with Workers.
The student-run organization strives to fight for workers’ rights both locally and internationally.
The event began with a discussion and explanation of how UNC and its students are connected to the unsafe conditions of factory workers in foreign countries.
Bangladeshi factory worker Reba Sikder, a survivor of the Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed more than a thousand people, and Aleya Akter, the general secretary of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, discussed their firsthand experiences in the factories.
Sikder described the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory and her story of survival when she was trapped in the rubble for two days.
“The brands don’t care about us,” she said. “They don’t think we are people, especially in Bangladesh.”
Akter said though the collapse of the Bangladesh factory was a tragic event, there have been many positive improvements in workers’ rights as a result.
Bangladeshi workers are now allowed to unionize, and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh has led to the closure of 24 buildings that were deemed unsafe.
After a strong push from SAW, the University now requires all companies that produce UNC apparel to sign the accord.
Akter said she and Sikder are speaking out at college campuses because they feel students have the power to effect change.
“You can prove these corporations wrong — all of you here,” she said.
Ebony Watkins, a member of SAW, said they chose to put on this event because students have the responsibility to show solidarity with any worker, and it is important to stand up for injustices wherever and whenever they are.
“We wanted to not only educate the student body about the issue but to also show them how this connects directly to students, to consumers, not only in the state but across the nation and across the world,” she said.
Watkins said workers’ rights should be synonymous with human rights.
“As human beings, we must ultimately make sure that each of us are living but truly living, not just existing, not just surviving to get by.”