Anti-sweatshop campaigners on college campuses have scored a significant victory for workers’ rights against the world’s largest sportswear company.
Activists have been pressuring Nike for over a decade to disclose factory locations, allow independent monitoring of labor conditions, and recognize garment worker unions. The recent "Just Pay It!" campaign by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), focused on $2 million compensation for 1,800 garment workers for Nike subcontractors Hugger and Vision Tex in Honduras. When the factories closed in January 2009, workers were left without legally mandated severance pay and pay due for hours worked.
Nike’s initial response was that they were not responsible for the actions of Hugger and Vision Tex, although many universities’ codes of conduct hold licensees like Nike responsible for the actions of their subcontractors.
The student campaign included mass comment on Nike’s Twitter and Facebook pages, leafleting at Niketowns, national speaking tours, and demonstrations on U.S. college campuses. The first universities to respond were the University of Wisconsin, which canceled its Nike contract, and Cornell, which threatened to do so. Focus shifted to the University of Washington in Seattle (UW) as Nike’s $1 million contract to sell UW logo products came due for renewal.
The UW’s Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) put steady pressure on the university’s administration to hold Nike accountable, and was joined in its lobbying efforts by a coalition including USAS, local labor groups and supportive elected officials.
Nike’s change of heart followed the recommendation from the UW trademarks and licensing advisory committee that the university end its Nike contract if the dispute was not resolved.
The total compensation Nike has negotiated with the CGT union in Honduras includes $1.5 million, priority hiring by Nike’s other Honduran suppliers, priority hiring for the 1,800 affected workers, nine months of medical care through the country’s social security system, and the provision of a paid job training program.
-Valerie Schloredt wrote this article for A Resilient Community, the Fall 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Valerie is associate editor at YES! Magazine.
“It's a combined voice saying we will not tolerate bigotry. Justice sometimes has to be served in putting aside profits.”
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