University Stands Up for Honduran Workers

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Labor Licensing Policy Committee voted to recommend that Chancellor Biddy Martin start taking steps to end the university’s apparel contract with Nike, Inc. due to alleged labor rights abuses at two of the company’s factories. However, the committee’s vote — which came under the urging of the Student Labor Action Coalition — is strictly advisory.

The LLPC’s recommendation comes after two Nike factories that produce collegiate apparel in Honduras — Vision Tex and Hugger de Honduras — were closed earlier this year, but did not pay the legally mandated severance and back pay to some 1,800 workers. The amount owed is more than $2 million.

Dawn Crim, a special assistant to the chancellor for community relations, said Monday the chancellor is hoping to hear back from Nike representatives before taking any major action against the company. She said the university is hoping to receive a phone call from Nike by the end of the week.

“Really, this is about engagement and working with them to remediate the problem,” said Crim. “Nobody wins when contracts are ended. Ultimately, it’s about workers and human rights, and if you end the contract you have no leverage.”

As a licensee of UW-Madison apparel, Nike must follow a university code of conduct for producers. This code, among other things, states that companies must pay these legally mandated wages and other benefits.
Nike paid UW-Madison nearly $50,000 this year to use the university insignia and other logos.

Jan Van Tol, a member of the Student Labor Action Coalition, on Monday said he generally appreciates the attention Martin is giving this topic. Nonetheless, Van Tol said he was hoping that Martin and the university would take a quicker and harsher stand against Nike.

“There is some truth to the fact that, once you cut a contract, you’re kind of out of the game,” said Van Tol, a student member of the university’s Labor Licensing Policy Committee. “But I think it’s also important to remember this is a national issue. So when UW-Madison cuts a contract, it really opens up the space for other universities to take action, too. Often, they’ll look to us as a leader.”

On Nov. 3, Martin wrote a letter to Nike expressing concerns over a Worker Rights Consortium report which spelled out the conduct violations at the two apparel factories in Honduras. Martin wrote to Nike that “ultimately, we believe under the university code of conduct, it is Nike’s responsibility to ensure that alleged labor rights violations by your subcontractors are remedied.” She then asked that Nike provide detailed information about how the company is dealing with the situation.

Martin requested that Nike respond by Nov. 11th, but as of Monday afternoon, Crim said Nike’s only response came on Nov. 10, when it sent out a generic letter to all universities who have been asking about the situation. In it, Nike indicated it “is deeply concerned about the issues raised by the Worker Rights Consortium … “

“We don’t consider that to be a response to the chancellor’s letter,” said Crim. “That was Nike simply communicating to license directors around the country and was an update of what was going on. It was in no way a response.”

Written by Todd Finkelmeyer

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