Little movement visible in Nike negotiations

October 28, 2016

Photo: Jim Keady
 The branding contract between Georgetown University and Nike expires on Dec. 31. As of now, Nike has not signed Georgetown’s code of conduct, and if Georgetown renews the contract, Nike will continue to be the only company affiliated with the university that has not signed this document.

Over a year ago, Nike refused to let the Worker Rights Consortium, a third party monitoring organization meant to protect workers’ rights, into their Vietnam factory Hansae, after reports of over-exhaustion, overheating, and abuse from management. This sparked a series of student protests on Georgetown’s campus led by the Georgetown Solidarity Committee and Athletes and Advocates for Workers Rights, resulting in student athletes taping over the Nike logos on their university-issued equipment.

Although President John DeGioia accepted private recommendations last year from the Licensing and Oversight Committee (LOC), a group comprised of students, faculty, and administrators to advise the school on the use of its brand, Georgetown and Nike have continued negotiations for months. Isabelle Teare (COL ’18), a member of the LOC, has been active in the Nike issue since it came to students’ attention. For Teare, continued negotiations are a bad sign.

“The only thing that these negotiations could mean is special treatment, loopholes, trying to find ways that Nike can maybe sign our code of conduct but still not allow independent monitoring,” Teare said. “That’s what we’re worried about.”

The LOC is supposed to advise the administration in negotiations on use of Georgetown’s logo, but in this case, Teare says they have been severely limited.

“Even this committee has no idea how negotiations are going. We’re not being told,” Teare said. “On top of that, [the LOC] isn’t granted access to see the contract in this whole scheme. I think that’s a huge problem.”

Cal Watson (COL ’07, LAW ’14) is a faculty chair for the LOC who has worked with students on the Nike issue, and acts as a liaison between administrators and students as the negotiations progress.

“We are in ongoing discussions with Nike regarding the status of its license with Georgetown,” Watson wrote in an email to the Voice. “We have communicated to Nike our commitment to the Code of Conduct for Georgetown University Licensees, which protects the rights of workers producing University-licensed apparel.”

To the average Georgetown student, non-renewal would mean no more Nike- brand Hoya apparel. However, renewing the Nike contract would mean maintaining a relationship with a company that does not allow third party monitoring of their factories, with a company accused of human rights abuses and of using sweatshop labor. It would mean maintaining a relationship that Teare nds unacceptable.

“It’s easy for the university to sit there and be like, ‘yeah, we’re in negotiations,’ but it’s been eight months,” Teare said. “It isn’t easy for the person over there whose life depends on the negotiations. This truly is a life or death issue. I think the university is being incredibly irresponsible by not taking this more seriously.”

The issue extends far beyond Georgetown, as many schools throughout the country have sponsorship contracts with Nike. “Many schools are looking to Georgetown to see what we do,” Teare said. “It’s either going to keep us moving forward in the right track of worker justice, or, if Georgetown doesn’t stand by its word and do the right thing, what that does is sends us 20 years backwards.”

That’s why Angeles Solís is advocating for Georgetown to drop the contract and set an example for other Nike affiliated schools. Solís is the international campaigns organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and believes Georgetown has both an opportunity and a responsibility to drop the Nike contract.

“Brands care a lot about producing university apparel because of the brand recognition and profit it brings,” Solís said. “At a critical time like this, when Nike is trying to turn back the clock on basic labor compliance, we need universities like Georgetown to once again give Nike an ultimatum and force them to respect the rights of its workers.”

According to Solís, movements for social justice often begin with student protests. “Oftentimes, students are steps ahead of their administration in the global ght for justice,” Solís said. “Students everywhere are ghting for an education so that they can go forth and change the world—but it can be done right here, right now, on your campus.”

In addition to the major publicity Georgetown would generate by declining to renew the contract, Teare highlights the significance of Georgetown’s unique position and history.

“We are a name brand school,” Teare said. “We are located in the nation’s capital, and on top of that, we have this history of being leaders on social issues through our Jesuit values.”

In 2012, students protested the university’s relationship with Adidas, another athletics company found to be committing labor violations. The university terminated its Adidas contract in early 2013. Five years earlier, Georgetown broke with Russell Athletics for similar reasons. That’s why Solís believes it is time to cut ties with Nike in the same way.

“The best way for us to truly be in solidarity with the workers producing Nike Hoya apparel would be to give Nike an ultimatum: compel your supplier factories to allow independent labor monitoring by the Worker Rights Consortium, or lose the right to make our apparel,” Solís said. “In order to support these workers, we have to hold multinational brands like Nike to a higher standard, and it is one Nike is failing to meet.”

With the university still in negotiations and the LOC unable to access or share information about the negotiations with the student body, Teare says the responsibility for change falls to the students.

“If none of the students cared about this on campus, the administration would sweep it under the rug” Teare said. “The thing that powers Georgetown is the students.” Solís advises student movements around the world, and at this juncture, she asserts the power students have to define how their universities behave. “Students have played a critical role in many historic movements in the U.S. and around the world, including the anti-sweatshop movement,” Solís said. “Students organizing on their campuses across the country have led to historic victories alongside garment workers and improved thousands of lives.”

That’s what student activists at Georgetown are trying to accomplish. “Students will protest,” Teare said. “Students will hold actions. We care about this.” As the Nike licensing contract’s expiration date, Dec. 31, draws closer by the day, Teare is clear on what student activists want. “We want DeGioia to uphold his promise,” Teare said. “If they don’t sign, they don’t work with us.”


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