The Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) hosted Sophorn Yang, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, to speak in the Leavey Program room about conditions in Nike factories as well as actions students could take to further workers’ rights in Nike factories abroad. This event was a part of GSC’s ongoing campaign to have Georgetown cut its ties with Nike, which included a sit-in in University President John DeGoia’s office in December 2016.
Much of Yang’s April 1 talk focused on student power in the fight for fair labor practices and urging students to take action. “Continue your fight, never feel like enough has been done, like ‘Okay, this is the end. We succeeded, we won this battle.’ If you want to make real changes, it’s always a battle and you have to continue fighting,” she said.
“It’s saddening to see that a pair of sneakers in a Nike store is equal to a one-month salary of a women worker, when in fact those women produce thousands and thousands of sneakers a day,” Yang said through a translator.
Sonia Adjroud (SFS ‘20), a member of GSC, said the event aligned well with GSC’s goals. “The purpose of this event was to listen to the workers who are fighting Nike on the ground and listen to their stories and for us stand in solidarity with them,” she said. “It gave a face to a lot of what we’ve been talking about in the past couple months—the past two years, with the Nike contact.”
Throughout the event, organizers said that although the university had decided not to renew its licensing agreement with Nike after student pressure, Georgetown continues to hold a sponsorship contact with the brand. “Nike continues to benefit from our athletes and continues to benefit from our community and we are also receiving money from Nike to do that, so that is unacceptable,” Adjroud said. She said that these practices were against the university’s Jesuit values.
Yang also said that successful student action in the campaign against Nike would set a precedent. “The students need to build their own power. If they’re allowing the school to just refuse your demands, this is a spiral—the school will continue to say no,” she said. “This is about Cambodia and Vietnam—what about something happening on the school campus next time?”
Benjamin Urlich (SFS’ 20) said Yang’s presentation gave him information to make a difference. “It was a very eye-opening experience because it was nice to see the connections between Georgetown and Nike and the WRC and see how important student activism is,” he said.
Yang’s speech at Georgetown was part of the National Worker Tour hosted by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). USAS has been targeted Nike due to the company’s refusal to allow independent monitoring of working conditions at its factories and other human rights violations.
Angeles Solis, a national organizer with USAS, introduced the event by detailing the conditions of Nike factories, including mass faintings, unsafe working conditions, and abrupt factory closures which devastate local economies.
Solis and Adjroud both said that the focus of the event was not on GSC, but on Yang and elevating the voices of workers like her in student activism. “Worker’s don’t need pity, they don’t need charity,” Solis said. “They need solidarity, and they need us to use our university’s leverage to improve conditions in these factories.”