A group of student activists at the University of Washington decided to “just do it”—and after successfully protesting, they got athletic apparel giant Nike to agree to let a third-party watchdog group, Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), inspect factories overseas that make Husky and UW-branded clothing for workplace safety violations.
It’s a big deal for worker’s rights—UW President Ana Mari Cauce says the contract is the first of its kind in the country, and can serve as a model for other colleges and universities as well.
It was all part of a coordinated national effort by labor rights group United Students Against Sweatshops, which has been campaigning against Nike and organizing global strikes at factories around the world.
This spring at the annual Board of Regent’s meeting, dozens of UW students showed up to protest the sneaker company’s labor practices and urge for more factory inspections. Over the summer, United Students Against Sweatshops also held a national day of action in cities across the world like Boston, Washington D.C., Bangalore, and San Pedro Sula in Honduras.
Nike spent a lot of time and money in the 1990s beating their bad rep for using sweatshops and violating children’s labor laws in many of their factories overseas. But now it looks like their bad rep is back: A few years ago, the company agreed to pay almost 2,000 workers in Honduras who lost their jobs during a unionizing campaign.
And, more recently, reports have surfaced about a Nike factory in Hansae, Vietnam, where workers were forced to work long hours in insufferable heat, in addition to experiencing other labor violations such as wage theft and forced overtime.
College-branded athletic wear is big business for Nike. WRC estimates that university-logo apparel is $4 billion market for the company.
According to the Daily, UW's paper, the university’s contract with Nike “is worth an estimated $5 million, and the UW’s annual royalty income of $284,000 accounts for over 15 percent of the university’s $1.7 million total royalty payments received from apparel companies.”
If significant labor violations are found in a Nike factory where UW-branded apparel is being made, the company must withdraw their orders, according to the contract.