In a hard-fought victory, students and workers have forced Nike, the world’s largest sportswear brand, to reverse its position on barring independent monitors from the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) to monitor its subcontracted factories. In an agreement reached after a USAS affiliate’s campaign at Georgetown University, Nike has committed to allowing WRC inspectors to monitor its sub-contracted garment factories.
In October 2015, Nike announced a dangerous anti-worker policy that prevented the WRC from communicating with workers inside its factories. Without the ability to communicate with the WRC, hundreds of thousands of garment workers were silenced from speaking up about labor violations. Nike’s ill-advised decision to initially block the WRC from monitoring its factories was a blatant attempt to turn back the clock on decades of progress made by garment worker leaders and student anti-sweatshop activists.
Outraged, students at over 25 universities launched the “Just Cut It” campaign against Nike, and demanded that their universities sever ties with Nike until the brand agreed to unequivocal WRC factory access. The need for independent inspectors was made urgently clear following an investigation at a large Nike subcontracted factory, Hansae Vietnam, where the WRC unearthed alarming human rights violations. The WRC uncovered numerous violations at Nike’s Hansae Vietnam supplier, including mass faintings due to illegally high temperatures and discriminatory firing of pregnant women. Nike had regularly audited this same factory without noticing any of these abuses, even after workers went on strike demanding these problems be resolved.
Student outrage escalated with USAS calling for Nike to immediately open its factories to WRC investigations and remediation plans. Over 600 university faculty signed a letter demanding Nike reverse its anti-worker policy. USAS hosted two national “worker tours” featuring union leaders from Cambodia and Thailand, who spoke out against Nike’s widespread sweatshop abuses, as well as the need for consistent independent factory monitoring. In July 2017, students and workers in 25 cities across 12 countries demonstrated at Nike stores and supplier factories during a Global Day of Action Against Nike.
The national campaign resulted in Rutgers University and UC Berkeley ending their multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements with Nike. Other campus campaigns resulted in Nike losing the right to produce university logoed apparel at Cornell, Boston University, Georgetown, and Northeastern University.
The collective efforts of students and workers around the world gave way to a victory this month, when Nike and the Workers Rights Consortium signed an unprecedented agreement with clear standards for factory access and remediation at Nike supplier factories. This agreement builds on the historic precedent that USAS activists set with Nike in 2010, when the sports behemoth was forced to pay $2 million legally-mandated severance pay to 1,800 former Honduran garment workers.