HOW DID STUDENT ACTIVISTS BEAT NIKE?

July 27th, 2010

Yesterday student activists won arguably the most impressive victory in the more than fifteen fight to end Nike’s sweatshop abuses. The “Just Pay It” campaign, run by the United Students Against Sweatshops, under the leadership of USAS staffer, Rod Palmquist, forced Nike to the bargaining table and got them to do something they have refused to do to date - take financial responsibility for the welfare of Nike’s subcontracted workforce.

At issue was $2.2 million dollars in severance and back pay due to approximately 1,800 Honduran workers who had been producing Nike products for the college bookstore market.

Here is an excerpt from the joint statement released by Nike and the trade union federation (CGT) that was representing the workers.

Nike and CGT are concerned for the workers in Honduras and have agreed to take important steps to support former employees of Hugger and Vision Tex. Through this agreement, Nike will contribute to a workers relief fund of $1.5 million to be administered jointly by CGT, the Solidarity Center, the Worker Rights Consortium and supervised by professor Lance Compa of Cornell University.

As someone who has fought this fight with Nike for more than a decade, I am so very grateful for what USAS and the Honduran workers have accomplished. This is truly a watershed moment. But now is not the time to rest on the laurels of this victory. We must analyze why it worked and develop plans duplicate its success. That is one of the mistakes that was made in the first go-around with Nike on these issues back in the late 90s. We had them on the ropes and we backed off. We cannot afford to do this again.

So, what were the key elements of the “Just Pay It” campaign that created the winning dynamic?

1. USAS picked and froze their target - Nike. This was not a generalized campaign against sweatshops, they did not go after “the industry.” Circumstances created a scenario where they focused on one company (Nike) in one country (Honduras).

2. USAS was clear in their demand - “Just Pay It.” There was no ambiguity to what they wanted from Nike. Workers were owed $2.2 million dollars and they wanted Nike to pay this amount. Because of this clear demand, they were not drawn into the subterfuge of public relations nonsense that Nike has been so successful at promoting over the years (Codes of Conduct, Corporate Social Responsibility, independent monitoring, etc.). Again, the demand was clearly laid on the table, “pay these Nike workers the $2.2 million dollars they are owed.”

3. USAS mobilized at the grassroots level. When Nike refused to meet their demand, the USAS ground forces mobilized workers, students, professors, non-profits, consumers, etc.

4. USAS made it fun and exciting. From small leafleting actions outside Niketowns, to creative demonstrations on college campuses, to bringing Honduran workers to the USA to tell their stories first hand; students had a blast taking on this corporate bully.

5. USAS held universities accountable to their public commitments. Students made excellent use of the foundation that had been laid by the first generation of USASers. If schools had licensing relationships with Nike AND belonged to the Worker Rights Consortium this meant that there was a framework for accountability. In accessing this framework, USAS was able to pressure the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cornell University to cut ties with Nike over this issue. And had Nike not made the move they did yesterday, I am sure that other schools would have followed suit in the fall.

6. The Honduran workers were willing to fight and were wanting of the collaboration with students and consumers. I believe this was actually the linchpin of this campaign and will be the linchpin of future campaigns. These Nike workers, despite their fears and disappointments, were willing to stand up and fight. When they did, they inspired and empowered students and consumers to join them and the solidarity actions of the students and consumers then re-inspired and re-empowered workers. It was a fluid and symbiotic relationship that ultimately led to victory. Nike workers around the world must learn of this victory and know that there is an army willing to support and work with them when they are ready to fight.

Now that students have led the way, the task is laid before us - we must replicate this victory. Nike must be pressed in multiple factories and in multiple countries. The template has been created and now the work must be done.

Peace, Jim Keady

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VICTORY: NIKE AGREES TO PAY $1.5 MILLION TO HONDURAN WORKERS

July 26th, 2010

justpayitredsq

Team Sweat:

Today we won a groundbreaking victory in the fight against Nike’s sweatshop abuses!

Nike announced this morning that they have come to an agreement with the Central General de Trabajadores de Honduras (CGT) and will pay $1,500,000.00 to a fund for monies owed to workers for back pay and severance.

Here is the official joint statement from Nike and CGT.

Nike and CGT Statement
26 July, 2010

Beaverton, Ore. (July 26, 2010) – NIKE, Inc. and the Central General de Trabajadores de Honduras (CGT), representing the former employees of the Nike contract supplier factories Hugger and Vision Tex, have reached an agreement to help improve the lives of workers affected by the Hugger and Vision Tex factory closures in Honduras.

Nike and CGT are concerned for the workers in Honduras and have agreed to take important steps to support former employees of Hugger and Vision Tex. Through this agreement, Nike will contribute to a workers relief fund of $1.5 million to be administered jointly by CGT, the Solidarity Center, the Worker Rights Consortium and supervised by professor Lance Compa of Cornell University.

Nike will also work with its Honduran suppliers to offer vocational training programs and to prioritize hiring of former Hugger and Vision Tex workers as jobs become available over the next two years. Nike will also cover worker’s enrollment in the Honduran Institute of Social Security (IHSS) to obtain health care coverage for a year or until they find new employment, whichever comes first.

Nike and CGT are pleased to have worked together to create a resolution that helps the former Hugger and Vision Tex workers in Honduras to receive needed financial and medical support. Nike and CGT are committed to working together, in conjunction with other stakeholders in Honduras, to develop long-term, sustainable approaches to providing workers with social protection when facing unemployment.

Much of the congratulations for this victory needs to go to the workers in Honduras who did not give up their fight for justice, as well as the United Students Against Sweatshops (www.usas.org) and the Worker Rights Consortium (www.workersrights.org), who supported these workers every step of the way.

This victory proves that we can and will win the fight for justice in Nike’s factories!

Peace, Jim Keady

NIKE SPENDS $25 MILLION ON CSR ANNUALLY BUT REFUSES TO PAY $2.2 MILLION IN SEVERANCE TO HONDURAN GARMENT WORKERS

July 26th, 2010

By Ana Arias
Posted On: July 18 @ www.justmeans.com

Sometimes the CSR decisions of big corporations are as perplexing as a jigsaw puzzle with missing parts. Why the company would hire a 135-people CSR department, amass a 74-people compliance team and spend approximately $25 million annually on CSR efforts while simultaneously refusing to cough up the $2.2 million owed to Honduran garment workers in legally-mandated severance is beyond comprehension.

According to United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), who are staging a heavy-duty anti-sweatshop “Just Pay It” campaign against the apparel giant, in January 2009 two of Nike’s factories in Honduras by the names of Vision Tex and Hugger were closed. To boot, Nike failed to pay the 1,800 workers their severance and additional legally required benefits. Each worker is due about $1,300, which the student group says is equivalent a US manufacturing employee losing around $15,000 to $20,000. Seems Nike’s talking out of two sides of its mouth. Shocking, right? It sure doesn’t smell like the kind of CSR home most of us would want to be involved with. To say nothing of the bad rep it creates for legitimate corporate social responsibility programs in ethical organizations.

On one hand, Nike is apparently insisting that they’re not responsible for what occurs in its sub-contracted factories. Yet they claim to be “driven to do not only what is requires by law but what is expected of a leader.” Yikes. I hope ethical CSR leaders cringe as much as the rest of us when we learn of such blatant inconsistencies. And on the other hand, the company’s code of conduct mandates that all of its suppliers comply with the particular country’s manufacturing laws in which they operate, inclusive of legally-mandated severance payments. “In the event a Nike factory closes down, as was the case with both Hugger and Vision Tex,” writes USAS’s International Campaign Coordinator Rod Palmquist, “then the buck stops at Nike’s doorstep.” It sounds to me as if Nike would be a highly qualified candidate we could designate to the Corporate Hall of Shame ballot.

I was glad to learn of progressive community and university leaders who are putting pressure on and affecting Nike’s financial bottom line because of the company’s complete disregard for the Honduran garment workers. In Portland, Nike’s backyard, a panel of community leaders urged Nike to enforce its code of conduct by paying up worker severance immediately. The University of Wisconsin-Madison became the first college in the country to cut its Nike contract over sweatshop abuses in April, causing Nike to lose $1 million in Badger gear yearly sales. Cornell University announced in June that it will let its Nike contract expire by December’s end, unless the company steps up to the plate and pays the workers what they’re owed. Extra kudos to Cornell, as Nike is the exclusive sponsor of the university’s athletics program.

I’ll conclude with a few more figures and a wild but plausible idea to provide more perspective. Last year, Nike’s estimated spend on sponsorships was $260 million and $200 million on advertising. The likes of superstar LeBron James is getting approximately $90 million over a seven-year period, and France and England’s World Cup soccer teams are getting annual amounts of $54 million and $44 million respectively. Now imagine the ripples of positive change that could take place if Nike’s CSR team surprised company executives and the world by taking the company’s $25 million CSR budget and re-allocating $2.2 million of that that budget to pay the Honduran garment workers for the what they’re owed. It’s far-fetched, I know. But Nike could do it if it wanted to.

NIKE URGED BY PENN STATE TO PLAY “POSITIVE ROLE” FOR HONDURAN WORKERS

July 16th, 2010

Posted on StateCollege.com
July 15, 2010 7:25 AM
by Adam Smeltz

Penn State has urged apparel company Nike (NKE) “to play a positive role in assisting” workers who were laid off from two factories in Honduras, university spokesman Geoff Rushton said Wednesday.

The two factories, known Hugger De Honduras and Vision Tex, served as subcontractors for Nike and manufactured Penn State-branded goods, among other branded products, according to the Worker Rights Consortium.

Both factories closed about 16 months ago, but it’s not clear that workers there have received the roughly $2 million that they are owed in mandated severance pay, according to an article posted at www.insidehighered.com.

Already, two universities — Cornell and the University of Wisconsin at Madison — have decided to end their Nike licensing agreements as a result of the matter, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Like Penn State, the University of Wisconsin is a Big Ten school. Both have had substantial agreements with Nike for years.

“While Nike has offered training and vocational programs, the company insists the (workers’ severance) payments are the responsibility of the subcontractors” in Honduras, the Inside Higher Ed article reads. “That position, however, runs afoul of many university codes of conduct — including Cornell’s, which holds licensees responsible for the actions of subcontractors, … .”

Rushton said Wednesday that he was looking into Penn State’s licensing code of conduct and how it might apply to the Nike situation in Honduras.

“Penn State is continuing to monitor the issue and receive updates from the Fair Labor Association, Worker Rights Consortium and the Collegiate Licensing Company, our licensing agent,” Rushton wrote in an e-mail message. “We have also spoken with Nike representatives directly.

“We are continuing to encourage Nike to work with the WRC, FLA, worker representation and others to resolve these issues in the best interest of the workers,” Rushton wrote.

He said he understands that Nike contracted two factories, Anvil and New Holland, “which in turn subcontracted Vision Tex and Hugger factories in Honduras.”

Nike indicated that it made full payment to Anvil and New Holland, Rushton wrote. Anvil and New Holland indicated “they had paid Vision Tex and Hugger in full,” he went on.

Rushton said he believes Nike has had ongoing discussions with representatives of the workers who lost their jobs.

Penn State-branded merchandise is manufactured in dozens of factories around the world, according to a Worker Rights Consortium database. The Washington, D.C.-based group, of which Penn State is a member, monitors working conditions globally to combat sweatshops and preserve workers’ rights.

StateCollege.com will post additional details in this developing story as they become available.

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FROM INSIDE HIGHER ED: CORNELL CUTS TIES WITH NIKE OVER LABOR ISSUES

July 7th, 2010

Inside Higher Ed (www.insidehighered.com)
Another One Bites the Dust

July 2, 2010

And then there were two.

Absent “significant progress” toward the resolution of an ongoing labor dispute in Honduras, Cornell University will follow the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s lead and end its licensing agreement with Nike. The decision, issued by President David Skorton in an internal letter Monday, is being heralded by anti-sweatshop activists as a significant victory in a battle over Nike’s refusal to pay severance to displaced workers in its supply chain.

“I have made the decision to allow the licensing agreement to run through its expiration date of December 31, 2010, at which point I will allow our agreement to expire unless significant progress is made,” Skorton wrote the university’s Licensing Oversight Committee, which recommended the contract be severed. “I am doing this to allow Nike time to accelerate discussions I understand are underway between the company and union representatives acting on behalf of the displaced workers and to become more assertive in its efforts to remediate the Codes of Conduct violations.”

As the second institution – and the only Ivy League university – to take a stand on the labor issue, Cornell’s move is sure to escalate pressure on a company that has been increasingly under fire since the closures of two Honduran factories 16 months ago. At issue is an estimated $2 million in legally mandated severance owed to workers at two Nike supplier factories, Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex, in Honduras.

While Nike has offered training and vocational programs, the company insists the payments are the responsibility of the subcontractors. That position, however, runs afoul of many university codes of conduct – including Cornell’s, which holds licensees responsible for the actions of subcontractors, the university’s oversight committee maintains.

In response to Cornell’s decision, Nike issued a statement suggesting the company is working to resolve the issue.

“Nike is very concerned for the affected workers of Vision Tex and Hugger and continues discussions with key stakeholders on this matter,” the statement reads. “In addition, we are in direct discussions with Cornell on our ongoing efforts in support of the workers in Honduras.”

Jack Mahoney, national organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops, said the Cornell decision was the product of an intense campaign on the campus, including a visit by displaced Honduran workers who shared their stories with administrators, faculty and students.

“I think this latest step by Cornell in conjunction with what happened at Wisconsin clearly is going to matter and give Nike some incentive to resolve this issue,” Mahoney said.

Moreover, past campaigns – such as one against Russell Athletic – have shown that once a few universities take a stand, others often follow.

“We’re going to have now both Wisconsin – a large important public school – and Cornell – an important Ivy – both setting a tone,” Mahoney said. “I think that really helps us on other campuses where students are having these conversations with administrators and want to point to the way that other universities are taking the lead on this.”

Conversations about pulling out of Nike contracts are already occurring on many other campuses. The University of Washington’s Advisory Committee on Trademarks and Licensing, for instance, has recommended Washington sever its contract if Nike doesn’t resolve the labor dispute. No decision on the contract has been made, however, a university spokesman said Thursday.

In addition to potentially pressuring other universities to follow its lead, Cornell is calling on the Collegiate Licensing Company – an agent that assists many universities with Nike contract negotiations – to urge Nike to resolve the labor dispute.

While Cornell’s licensing agreement with Nike would end Dec. 31 absent satisfactory progress from the company, the expiration would not impact an additional agreement the university has with the company for providing athletic apparel to sports teams, a university spokesman said Thursday.

Casey Sweeney, president of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action, said she believed the broad student support for pressuring Nike helped inform Skorton’s ultimate decision. More than 30 organizations endorsed the campaign, including the Student-Athlete Advisory Council, which has representatives from all of the university’s 36 team sports.

“I think it just is a testament to the wide range of support we were able to gather,” Sweeney said. “It was really nice to see in our community there are certain values we uphold across the community. For [the Student-Athlete Advisory Council] to feel as passionate about it as we were, was exciting.”

— Jack Stripling

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CLASH OF THE TITANS - WILL UW STAY WITH NIKE?

June 11th, 2010

June 11, 2010
PUBLISHED IN “INSIDE HIGHER ED”
By Jack Stripling

Before he leaves to head the nation’s premier sports governing body, Mark Emmert may have a showdown with the world’s leading athletics apparel provider.

Emmert, who now serves president of the University of Washington and will soon become chief of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, has been urged not to renew the university’s licensing agreement with Nike. In a Tuesday letter to the president, the university’s Advisory Committee on Trademarks and Licensing relayed its unanimous decision that the agreement be severed, barring a satisfactory resolution to an ongoing labor dispute between Nike and Honduran workers.

“[The Committee] feels strongly that we have waited long enough for Nike to meet its responsibility [regarding] workers in its supply chain,” wrote Margaret Levi, co-chair of the committee and a professor of international studies. “We urge you to accept our advice.”

The committee, which previously pressed Emmert to find Nike in violation of the university’s code of conduct, includes student, faculty and staff representatives. While its recommendations are advisory, Emmert has followed the committee’s suggestions in the past.

When the University of Wisconsin at Madison became the first university to end its Nike agreement over the Honduran worker dispute, Chancellor Biddy Martin did so at the behest of the university’s labor licensing committee — the equivalent of the group now encouraging Emmert to do the same.

Washington’s contract with Nike ends December 2010, a month after Emmert is slated to begin his new duties as president of the NCAA. Whether Emmert will make the decision or leave it to his successor at Washington is unclear, a university spokesman said Thursday.

“He’s not come to any decisions,” said Norman Arkans, associate vice president for communications. “I have no idea how long he’s going to take to think about it, but that’s up to him.”

Many of the NCAA’s members, and the NCAA itself, have licensing agreements with Nike. Additionally, Nike is a founding sponsor of iHoops, a youth basketball program run by the NCAA and the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Asked whether his future position as head of the NCAA added any gravity to Emmert’s decision over Washington’s contract, Arkans said “that’s for somebody else to speculate.”

“He’s still president of the University of Washington, and he is acting right up until his last day as the president of the University of Washington,” he said. “He has responsibilities here.”

Emmert’s future with the NCAA is just one of the interesting twists at Washington. The university’s provost, Phyllis Wise, recently became a member of Nike’s corporate board, drawing some criticism from students and faculty who decry the company’s labor practices. Orin Smith, who has served on Nike’s board since 2004, is also a member of the university’s board of regents.

The regents have yet to say whether Wise will step in as interim president when Emmert departs, but as the second-in-command it would be unsurprising for her to take on the role. Even if she does become interim chief, Wise would continue to recuse herself from decisions about Nike, just as she does now as provost, Arkans said.

“It will be another university official with the authority to make that decision,” he said.

It would be unfortunate, however, if circumstances necessitated such a weighty decision about Nike being made at a lower administrative level, said Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, director of the university’s Center for Human Rights.

“I think it’s imperative that this be a presidential-level decision,” she said.

“I don’t question [Wise’s] sincerity in recusing herself,” Godoy added. “But if she’s in a position supervising others who are tasked with [deciding on the Nike agreement] and she sits on Nike’s board, it creates a situation that looks an awful lot to me like a conflict of interest.”

Asked about the committee’s recommendation, a Nike spokeswoman said Thursday that the company “greatly values its relationship with the University of Washington.” Erin Patterson, the spokeswoman, went on to say in an e-mail that the company had not violated the university’s conduct code because “no university branded product” was produced at either of the two Honduras-based companies that have generated controversy over labor practices. There was a “one time order” of Nike products without Washington logos, however, provided to the university through one of the suppliers, Patterson said.

Washington’s ties to Nike have prompted protests from United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), and the organization was quick to say Thursday that the committee’s letter represented a test for the university to prove its administrators’ ties to the company truly aren’t a conflict.

“If President Emmert doesn’t drop the UW’s Nike contract, I think the most lasting impact will be national attention to the UW as a case study of corporate control of a public university, since anti-sweatshop issues aren’t going away anytime soon,” Rod Palmquist, a spokesman for USAS, wrote in an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed.

Nike has been under fire from labor groups for years, but the catalytic event that’s caused such a backlash at Washington involves two of Nike’s supplier factories, Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex, in Honduras. The Worker Rights Consortium, which counts Washington among its member universities, found that the factories closed without paying workers who were legally mandated severance totalling more than $2 million.

Nike has responded by offering training and vocational programs, but the company maintains it bears no financial liability.

“Nike is absolutely concerned for the workers in Honduras and we are deeply disappointed that the two failed sub-contract factories did not pay the workers their full severance pay,” the company said in April. “However, it remains Nike’s position that factories which directly employ workers are responsible for ensuring that their employees receive their correct entitlements and as such Nike will not be paying severance to workers that were employed by Hugger and Vision Tex.”

For Washington’s advisory committee, the response from Nike thus far has been insufficient. In its letter to Emmert, the committee said the contract should only be renewed if the workers “receive the terminal compensation owed them under Honduran law” or reach a legitimate settlement agreement.

The university’s stand on the Nike issue is “hugely important” to sending a message to the company, Godoy said.

“I would say Nike’s conduct in this case has been abysmal, and I’m not only referring to the [university conduct code] violation itself,” she said. “What I think is particularly abysmal has been their response to that situation. They’ve essentially done nothing of significance to change the situation of workers on the ground.”

HONDURAN WORKERS DEMAND $2.2 MILLION FROM NIKE AT PORTLAND AREA WORKERS’ RIGHTS BOARD

June 11th, 2010

JOBS WITH JUSTICE BLOG

By Margaret Butler, on April 28th, 2010

Last night, just a few miles away from Nike’s global headquarters, two Honduran workers spoke out strongly about how Nike’s destructive labor practices have hurt them, their families and their co-workers. Gina Cano and Lowlee Urquía testified in front of members of the Portland Area Workers’ Rights Board and a crowd of more than 100 community members.

Both women had worked in Nike-contracted factories for many years in Honduras before being laid off without notice, and without legally mandated severance pay in January 2009. “We’re here in Oregon, the home of Nike, because we want to put a face to the consequences of Nike’s behavior”, said Lowlee Urquía. “We’re saying to Nike that it is responsible every step of the way.”

The two women represented over 1,700 workers who are owed $2.2 million in severance pay. The workers are also owed health care premiums, which were deducted from their wages but never paid to the health care system. This meant that workers could not access health care in the four months before the closure. At least one worker, who had been receiving cancer treatment, died because of this denial of care, according to the worker testimony.

The two workers and expert witness Jeff Ballinger, a long-time anti-sweatshop activist, told the story of how the two plants produced Nike product for 13 years before the closure. Nike had contracted with three apparel companies, Haddad, Anvil, and New Holland Lingerie, who in turn had contracted with the two factories, Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex. Workers at both plants started organizing unions just prior to the closure.

Nike was invited to offer their perspective, but chose not to come and testify, stating in a letter that this open community hearing was “not the most effective forum for constructive dialogue.” In correspondence with United Students Against Sweatshops, Nike claimed it did not have significant production in the two factories, and said except for one batch of orders, the plants did not produce clothing for the university market.

The two workers strongly refuted this claim. Gina Cano told the Workers’ Rights Board that, “the Nike Code of Conduct was posted all over the walls in Spanish and English.” Cano told the panel that her factory made 60 to 100% Nike apparel. Urquía testified that Vision Tex made about 80% Nike apparel. Both plants received yearly inspections from Nike auditors. Nike’s Code of Conduct binds their contractors to pay wages and benefits as required by local law. The posted Codes of Conduct were “purely decorative,” Cano told the WRB that. “They didn’t mean anything.”

Workers’ Rights Board panel members were moved by the testimony. Francisco Lopez, Executive Director of CAUSA Oregon and a Salvadoran immigrant, said, “It seems that Nike is the new United Fruit Company,” referring to the latter’s notorious exploitation of Central American workers in the 1950s. “It’s the same story, not bananas, but apparel. This is an opportunity for us to challenge Nike…all the money that [former Nike CEO Phil Knight] gives our University system is made on the backs of workers.”

The panel issued a statement finding that since Nike’s Code of Conduct binds its contractors to follow the Honduran law, it is responsible for making sure the workers are paid the severance owed them. The Workers’ Rights Board panel will seek to meet with Nike to communicate its findings, as well as issuing a report from the hearing to help educate the public about these issues. Workers’ Rights Board members and the Honduran workers will address the upcoming May Day march about these issues.

The case was brought to the Workers’ Rights Board by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), the national organization of college students organizing for the rights of garment workers and campus workers. USAS organizers have traveled cross-country with Cano and Urquía, as part of the campaign they’re calling “Just Pay It.”

The Portland Area Workers’ Rights Board panel was made up of Armando Gonzales, a leader with statewide MeCHA, Francisco Lopez, Executive Director of CAUSA Oregon, Joice Taylor, CEO of Global Management Strategies and chair of the N/NE Business Alliance, Deacon Marla McGarry-Lawrence of St Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, Dr Martin Hart-Landsberg, Professor of Economics at Lewis and Clark College and Steve Novick, two-time winner of Willamette Week’s Activist of the Year award.

The Workers’ Rights Board is a project of Portland Jobs With Justice, a coalition of 85 unions and community groups working together in a campaign for workers’ rights.

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FORMER NIKE WORKERS PROTEST UNFAIR CONDITIONS

June 11th, 2010

The Daily Targum

Published: Monday, April 12, 2010

Two former Nike factory workers spoke to students Sunday night in an effort to push the University to cut ties with the corporation.
Gina Cano and Lowlee Uriquia, who both worked in the Honduras New Holland factories producing Nike apparel, spoke to about 100 people on the College Avenue campus about the exploitation they experienced after creating a workers’ union. They also touched upon how Nike denied responsibility and refused to pay workers severance.
Two Honduran clothing factories closed for unclear reasons on Jan. 19, 2009, leaving about 1,700 workers without a job, health insurance and severance pay, said Zachary Lerner, president of the Rutgers Chapter of the United Students Against Sweatshops, the sponsor of the event.
“Our whole point is that everyone wants to wear Nike clothes, you just want it so that they’re not made on the backs of people,” said Lerner, a Schools of Arts and Sciences junior. “[Nike] owes the workers between $2.2 million and $2.6 million, and in revenue Nike makes $2.2 million in one hour.”
The USAS is pushing the University to cut its ties with Nike, who produces the University’s apparel. Lerner said the situation violates both the University and Nike codes of business conduct.
The women spoke of exploitative practices, like being docked fees for the health insurance and never receiving the benefits of those services.
As the situation worsened, the workers created a union. In a day, management fired many top positions in the union, including the president and vice president, Uriquia said.
The workers said they were given no reason as to why the factory closed. But with the help of the Confederation of Honduran Unions and the Workers Rights Consortium, they pressured management to speak up, she said.
Uriquia said the workers were told the factories closed because they were no longer getting orders due to the economic crisis in the United States.
Cano, a union organizer, was hired at New Holland after Hugger de Honduras closed. She was fired two weeks into the job once management looked into her organizing background, she said.
“The probationary period at any factory is two months, and they gave me no kind of explanation as to why they were firing me,” Cano said. “Because we are part of this fight, because we’re in this struggle, both of us have been discriminated against. We’ve both been blacklisted.”
She said factories tend to prioritize individuals for hiring, mostly women between the ages of 18 and 25 who have never worked in these kinds of factories and do not know their rights.
According to an April 8 article in the Cornell Daily Sun published, Nike said they already did things they were not required to do regarding sub-contract workers, like providing training programs.
“It is not [our] responsibility to take care of sub-contract workers,” a Nike official said in the article.
The fundamental reason USAS says sweatshops exist is because companies like Nike, Adidas and Reebok abuse the power that they have in a global economy, said International Campaign Coordinator for USAS Rod Palmquist.
Sixteen supporters of the movement to end University ties with Nike approached University President Richard L. McCormick earlier in the semester, demanding he cut the contract due to labor rights violations. McCormick sent a letter to Nike and said he would look into it again at the end of the semester.
Lerner noted the University of Wisconsin cut their contract with Nike last Friday and said the University should follow in their steps.
“We need to do something right now. It can’t just be something we wait on,” he said.
The two women have been speaking as part of a national tour. They have previously spoken at universities such as Duke, Cornell, Brown and the Universities of Florida and Maryland.
The night ended with an outdoor candlelight ceremony with tea candles spelling out the words “Just Pay It,” though they were never lit due to weather and police enforcement restrictions.
School of Arts and Sciences first-year student Brett Kozinn said he would still wear Nike even after attending the event.
“[By] me not wearing Nike, [it] isn’t going to have a huge effect on this kind of thing,” he said. “I’m more inclined to get involved in something like this now, but not wearing Nike isn’t going to give those people their severance.”

STUDENTS PROTEST CORNELL’S INVOLVEMENT WITH NIKE

May 18th, 2010

PUBLISHED IN THE CORNELL DAILY SUN
FEBRUARY 24, 2010
BY DAN FREEDMAN

As the afterglow of their success against Russell Athletic fades, University activists now face the prospect of dealing with what they view as a larger workers’ rights crisis with the corporate behemoth Nike.

In February 2009, relentless pressure from United Students Against Sweatshops forced Cornell to join nearly 100 universities across the country in boycotting Russell Athletic, after the apparel manufacturer allegedly closed one of its Honduran factories to prevent unionization. Nine months later, USAS groups celebrated a landmark victory when Russell decided to rehire the 1,200 Honduran workers who had lost their jobs.

Their campaign against Nike is just beginning. According to a press release issued Tuesday afternoon by Cornell’s chapter of Students Against Sweatshops, a new campaign dubbed, “Just Pay It,” has been initiated against the Nike Corporation for allegedly violating University code of conduct regulations at two of its apparel factories in Honduras. Following a meeting with University administrators, CSAS issued a statement condemning Nike and its subsidiary, the Haddad Group, for illegal wage practices following their closure of the Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex factories in January 2009.

The unionized factories, which predominantly produced goods for Nike, including University apparel, were shut down by Nike subcontractor Haddad for “economic reasons.” According to CSAS though, after Nike stopped sourcing from the Honduran factories, forcing them into liquidation, both Nike and Haddad refused to pay their workers approximately $2.1 of $2.5 million in severance pay legally mandated by the Honduran Government. For CSAS leaders, this refusal represents a breach of university clothing codes of conduct as well as the Designated Suppliers Program regulations that Cornell endorses.

“Nike is trying to skirt its obligations by claiming there are legal loopholes that excuse their behavior,” Casey Sweeney, President of Cornell Organization for Labor Action, stated in the brief issued yesterday. “But both legally and morally, they are required to pay their workers.”

Besides Nike and Haddad’s legal obligations in Honduras, which COLA and CSAS leaders assert are being ignored, student activists are lobbying for Cornell to adhere to DSP, a set of policies that both governs apparel procurement and sets standards for labor practices for licensees of university logos.

While DSP has not been officially approved by the US Department of Justice, according to Alex Bores ‘13, President of CSAS, it is “something that Cornell signed onto in principle in 2006.”

According to Bores, the Workers’ Rights Consortium, which conducts audits to ensure that workers are treated fairly, monitors factories belonging to companies like Nike .

“We used them [the WRC] on our behalf to investigate charges brought against companies and overseas factories,” Mike Powers, vice president for university communications, told The Sun last year. “Cornell is committed to respecting the rights of workers around the world and we expect the companies that are licensed to produce Cornell apparel to share that commitment.”

Bores said that Nike has consequently violated WRC and Cornell’s code of conduct.

“Under Honduran law companies have to pay severance pay, but [the workers] only got money from the liquidation of the factory,” he said.

While student activists see many similarities between Nike and Russell Athletic, they are also quick to point out the differences between the two.

“The biggest difference is that Russell directly owned the factory where their violations occurred, whereas Nike is one-step removed by subcontractors,” CSAS member Bill Peterson ’10 said. “The unfortunate reality of apparel manufacturing is that sweatshops are often subcontracted. Nike denied that they were making Nike products there, yet they had huge Nike banners in the factories.”

This campaign may also prove more difficult than the campaign against Russell because Cornell is much more involved with Nike, which provides uniforms for athletic teams, than it was with Russell, Bores said.

“It’s a lot for the University to deal with, but if that’s what it takes to get justice for these workers then that’s what we’re going to push for,” Bores added.

Student activists hope to work together with Cornell to employ some of the same strategies used to influence Russell Athletics to adopt fairer labor practices.

“I think we’ll be able to get the workers paid,” Peterson said. “It’s going to be a really long campaign but I don’t see why not. With Russell we had to put pressure on them. We need to make [Nike] realize that this is something that’s important and that people will not stand for this. Ultimately, what influences their decisions is money.”

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RUTGERS STUDENTS QUESTION UNIVERSITY CONTRACT WITH NIKE

May 18th, 2010

Published in MoxieToday
by Avi Scher

The Rutgers chapter of the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) recently delivered a letter to President McCormick demanding that Rutgers end contracts with Nike due to human rights violations at two Honduran factories the company has worked with. The factories in question, Vision Tex and Huggers de Honduras, closed in January 2009 with no prior warning and have yet to pay nearly $2 million in legally mandated severance pay to roughly 1,800 former employees.

According to Zachary Lerner, one of the leaders of the movement, this is a direct violation of the University Code of Conduct that must be addressed by the University. Lerner stated that a March 4 deadline was set for the University to make a decision before further action is taken and that McCormick plans on meeting with a delegation of students over the next couple of weeks to address their concerns.

A statement released by Nike in response to concerns at Purdue University, said that both factories were subcontracted by a Honduran contractor. It claimed that the only order for collegiate apparel from the two companies was produced by Vision Tex in 2007 and that the factory was informed in June 2008 that Nike would no longer be placing orders with them after December. The last order placed with Hugger was completed by the end of 2007.

However, the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) – which Rutgers is a member of – claimed that despite reducing orders at the of 2006, Hugger manufactured a small but substantial amount of Nike goods until its closure and produced collegiate apparel on four occasions. Based on worker testimony and shipping invoices the WRC believes that the majority of the product lines at Vision Tex were dedicated to Nike until it closed.

A similar controversy over the source of Rutgers’ apparel occurred last year leading to the University’s decision to not renew contacts with Russell. In the Russell case, a Honduran factory was shut down when its employees attempted to form a union. USAS helped convince nearly 100 colleges across the nation to end or suspend licensing agreements which allowed for Russell to use their logos on products. Russell subsequently reopened the factory and rehired all 1,200 workers.

United Students Against Sweatshops meets Wednesday nights at 9:15 in Scott Hall 101. They can be reached at sparkachange@gmail.com.

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