Nike has announced a watershed agreement with CGT, the union representing workers at two Honduran factories, Hugger and Vision Tex. According to the terms of the agreement unveiled Monday (July 26), Nike will pony up $1.5 million to a workers' relief fund that will underwrite social security and health-care costs for laid-off employees.
The Nike-CGT severance resolution, the culmination of nationwide pressure largely emanating from anti-sweatshop activists, students, and professors at the University of Washington and elsewhere, comes at a critical time.
Last December, members of the UW's Advisory Committee on Trademarks and Licensing voted to put Nike on notice for disregarding the university's code of conduct. Charges included Nike's multiple failures to abide by mandated disclosure standards as well as its refusal to pay severance to workers at the Honduran Hugger and Vision Tex factories.
The narrative grew complicated after UW Provost and soon-to-be interim President Phyllis Wise announced her appointment to Nike's corporate board. Wise said that she would recuse herself from all university decisions involving the company and subsequently reported plans to donate her Nike income to a scholarship fund.
But the timing of Wise's announcement was, in a word, awful, and it quickly ignited a backlash among campus activists and higher-ed politicos. In January, the UW chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a formal statement calling for Wise to step down from the Nike board. Wise declined.
Finally on June 8, the UW's Advisory Committee on Trademarks and Licensing (ACTL) voted unanimously to quash the end-of-year renewal of Nike's university contract. To ratchet up pressure, members of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) along with labor, community, and academic pashas issued a July 15 open letter to UW President Mark Emmert requesting that he act on the committee's recommendation posthaste.
After Monday's announcement, however, the Nike tempest looks to be over.
ACTL committee chair, Professor Margaret Levi, said in an email:
ACTL recommended the ending of the Nike contract in the absence of the historic agreement reached between Nike and the CGT, representing the workers of Vision Tex and Hugger in Honduras. I am sure the members of the committee share my delight in this outcome, which represents a significant victory in the struggle for workers' rights. However, the struggle is on-going. Our committee is dedicated to working hard to ensure that licensed goods at the University of Washington are produced under sustainable conditions for workers and for the environment — whether they be provided by Nike, Russell, or any other brand. We shall continue to work to improve the supply chain model or supersede it with a better model.
The agreement is inspired news for international labor and for the UW. For one shining, hopefully long moment, corporate lions and labor lambs (or labor lions and corporate lambs) are lying down together.
"We are delighted at this outcome," Emmert said in a statement. "More than taking responsibility for correcting the violations of its subcontractors, Nike's actions chart a responsible course for its competitors to follow in similar situations."
At the UW, the sword (or Nike swoosh) of Damocles is gone for now. It's also a sweet coda to President Emmert's tenure. In the fall, Emmert moves on to run the NCAA.
Said one UW professor, "Sometimes the good guys win."
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