Students rush President DeGioia’s office to protest Nike

December 8, 2016

Protesters outside Healy Hall, Dec. 2016. Photo: Lilah Burke

2:00 a.m. update:

The remaining students outside DeGioia’s office left Healy Hall around 1:45 a.m. while the eight students inside remained. The students outside said they expect GUPD to allow the students to remain inside the office for the night and do not expect university action until 8 a.m.

One GUPD officer outside the office and one inside were present.

Healy reopens at 6 a.m., and the protesters plan to reoccupy the space outside the office at that time.

-Ryan Miller

1:40 a.m. update:

After being threatened with sanctions from university administration, nine students left the sit-in in DeGioia’s office just before 9 p.m. University sanctions affect a student’s ability to participate in certain student activities and study abroad. Eight students now remain inside the room, though it is unclear how the university will respond at 2 a.m. when Healy Hall is set to close.

DeGioia’s Chief of Staff Joe Ferrara and University Spokesperson Rachel Pugh have both said they hope continuing negotiations with Nike will result in a renewal of the licensing contract with unlimited access for the Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent monitoring group, to Nike’s factories in Vietnam.

Though the WRC has been conducting an investigation into Nike’s Hansae factory in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam since October 2015, Nike has not facilitated WRC access to the facility. The WRC released a report on May 6 detailing local law and university Code of Conduct violations at the factory, gleaned from off-site interviews with workers. The group was granted access this summer in a tandem visit with the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a group that activists characterized as an “industry-sponsored monitoring group.”

The WRC released a report Dec. 6 confirming many of the same labor issues at the factory that they discussed in May. Nike has not yet made a public commitment to allow random, unsupervised WRC visits in the future.

Leaving DeGioia’s office around 8 p.m., Ferrara addressed protesters in the foyer and responded to the latest WRC report. “We are continuing to work with Nike to get an agreement where the Workers’ Rights Consortium has access to plants to do inspections and investigations and to give complaints and to be able to issue independent reports,” Ferrara said. “We think the WRC report that came out just in the last few days about the Hansae plant is very powerful evidence of how important these reports are and what the WRC was able to uncover.”

Ferrara explained that the university is looking  to renew the licensing contract while also securing WRC access, which is out of line with protesters demands to cut the licensing contract all together. “We are working this as hard as we can in terms of getting to an agreement,” Ferrara said. “We can get to an agreement where we can have WRC access. That is what’s best for workers.”

University spokesperson Rachel Pugh responded to the sit-ins and the WRC report in a university statement. “The report issued on December 6 by the The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) regarding the Hansae factory in Vietnam is deeply troubling, and underlines the importance of the WRC and independent monitoring,” Pugh wrote in an email to the Voice. “We are encouraged that through our productive engagement with Nike, the WRC was granted access to the Hansae factory and we are appreciative of their comprehensive report. Nike has committed to extensive remediation with the WRC, Fair Labor Association (FLA) and Hansae management and they have initiated sanctions against the factory. We believe the best way to address the concerns in the reports and to improve the conditions of workers is by working together with Nike. We are working to reach agreement with Nike on terms that ensure timely, independent factory monitoring by the WRC to address complaints in the future as a condition of our licensing contract moving forward.”

Protesters described the university negotiations and response as naively optimistic, or as a way of rebranding little real movement. “You’re telling me that you have not reached an agreement yet to allow the WRC access and you’re not going to cut the contract. So we’re exactly back where we started,” Vincent DeLaurentis (SFS ‘17) responded to Ferrara’s statement to the protesters outside DeGioia’s office.

Dan Zager (COL ‘18) who was part of the office sit-in until sanctions were being delivered, did not think the university was being realistic about their abilities. “The university has zero leverage in this deal. Nike is a multi-billion dollar company and this contract is pennies on the dollar for them,” Zager said. He noted that the university has said they are negotiating with Nike for 14 months, and that movement in the next three weeks would be unexpected. “I almost have to respect that kind of optimism or naivety,” he said.

According to the December WRC report, Nike has acknowledged the labor violations at Hansae and has worked with the facility to produce a corrective action plan. Although the remedies outlined initially in the plan would not bring the factory up to university Code of Conduct standards, Nike has committed to the WRC to take on additional remedies, which the FLA has endorsed.

Protesters are asking that the university cut the licensing contract regardless, but also that for the sponsorship contract with Georgetown Athletics, Nike grant “unequivocal,” random, and independent access to Hansae for the WRC.

Lilah Burke

5:45 p.m. update:

Georgetown’s Licensing Oversight Committee (LOC) held a meeting today at 3 p.m. just down the hall from a sit-in where students are occupying University President John DeGioia’s office and its outside foyer, demanding the university end its licensing contract with Nike. The LOC provides guidance to the university’s leadership regarding trademark licensing policy.

Two student protesters, Lily Ryan (COL ‘18) and Isabelle Teare (COL ’18) who are members of the LOC, wanted to call into the meeting from within DeGioia’s office, but the LOC did not allow it, Ryan said. In past meetings, LOC members had been allowed to call in, and although Ryan and Teare were allowed to leave DeGioia’s office for the meeting then return, Ryan said they wanted to continue their sit-in. They were not given a specific reason why they could not call into the meeting.

Ryan said administrators and leaders of the committee have given them no information as to what was discussed at the meeting.

“Thus far we’ve been left entirely in the dark,” she said.

The LOC cannot make a decision for the university on its own, but instead it can recommend an action to DeGioia. Ryan said that she does not know of a time when university administrators ignored an LOC recommendation.

“It would be truly unprecedented for the university to not only ignore the work that the LOC has done for the past 14 months but also to ignore the voices of students who are so concerned about this issue,” Ryan said.

The protesters are still keeping to their commitment to stay inside the office until the university ends its licensing contract or says it will not allow for it to renew on Dec. 31. Outside the office, about 30 students remain.

No official word has been given as to whether they will be allowed to stay past the office’s close at 6 p.m. or the building’s close at 2 a.m.

“We’re keeping in the back of our mind always that we’re doing this to fight for workers in the Hansae factory in Vietnam but also to make a point that the dignity of work is part of our university’s values and that we want it to be reflected in our licensing,” Ryan added.

Georgetown established the LOC, which includes students, faculty and staff, in 2000. The group has played a critical role in determining the university’s relationships with licensees. In 2009 the LOC decided not to renew Russell Athletic’s contract because of concerns around Russell’s labor practices.

In 2012, the LOC recommended the university drop Adidas when the company was violating the Licensee Code of Conduct.

The LOC has been working with administrators on the Nike contract, but has not released information about these proceedings.

University spokesperson Rachel Pugh and Nike’s media relations team both have not replied to email requests for comment.

-Ryan Miller

2:40 p.m. update:

Seventeen Georgetown students rushed into University President John DeGioia’s office on Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. to sit-in and occupy the space in Healy Hall in protest of Georgetown’s licensing contract with Nike apparel. Nike has refused to sign the university’s Licensee Code of Conduct and submit to third-party monitoring by the Worker’s Rights Consortium (WRC).

Signs of protest on Healy steps. Photo: Lilah Burke

A group of more than 50 students have also joined the sit-in outside in the foyer of DeGioia’s office in solidarity with the 17 behind closed doors inside the office. A rally in support of the sit-in also took place in Dahlgren Quad around 11:45 a.m., and students marched to the foyer after.

The students in DeGioia’s office have vowed to sit in until the university ends the licensing contract. Although the contract is set to expire on Dec. 31, the students are looking for a written affirmation that Georgetown will not renew it. Nike is the exclusive apparel provider of Georgetown Athletics.

Joe Ferrara, DeGioia’s chief of staff, told the students sitting in that university administrators are currently negotiating with Nike asking the company to allow the WRC into its factories in Vietnam, the main site of the labor concerns, Sophie Bauerschmidt Sweeney (COL ‘17) said.

Obed Ventura protests outside Healy. Photo: Lilah Burke

Bauerschmidt Sweeney is one of the 17 students inside DeGioia’s office and spoke with the Voice on the phone.

While Bauerschmidt Sweeney would see WRC access as a victory, she said that it would be out of line with their demands.

“What we’re asking for is not that Nike do anything, because we’re not sitting in at Nike’s headquarters,” she said. “There’s sort of a misalignment in their trying to get Nike to do things and we’re asking them to just cut the contract. Like it’s too late. Nike has had too many violations at this point and it’s not a time for forgiveness or giving them a second chance.”

The students brought food with them, and Bauerschmidt Sweeney said they are willing to stay overnight if necessary, though protesters were told the office closes at 6 p.m. and Healy Hall closes at 2 a.m. A GUPD officer will be with the students at all times, Bauerschmidt Sweeney also said.

Students occupying DeGioia’s office dropped a banner from the balcony. Photo: Lilah Burke

Students inside the office are allowed to leave and reenter to use the bathroom. As one student left, the demonstrators outside met her with cheers.

The protest outside Healy began around 10:15 a.m. as eight students held up a banner reading, “Do you want your Nike apparel made in sweatshops?” The students began chanting and singing. “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! And if we don’t get it? Shut it down!”

The protesters inside DeGioia’s office also hung a banner, which reads “Occupied Until DeGioia Cuts Nike,” from the balcony that faces Healy Circle.

“The [Nike] contract needs to end now,” said Vincent DeLaurentis (SFS ‘17), one of the student protesters outside. “You can ask DeGioia how long we’ll need to sit here.”

Some chants specifically spoke to DeGioia or referenced the licensing contract with Nike. “Nike and Georgetown sitting in a tree, perpetuating slavery!” the students chanted.

Students bring a banner from the rally in Dalhgren Quad to the President’s foyer. Photo: Lilah Burke

The students, many of whom are members of Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC), had been planning the protest since last Sunday. The protest follows ongoing meetings between dissenting students and the administration, however DeGioia was not present at these meetings.

“We’ve had over a year of meetings, over a year of trying to sit down and talk with the administrators, and it’s clear to us that they’re not committed to making sure these labor injustices at Nike’s factory are taken care of,” DeLaurentis said outside on Healy steps.

At the rally in Dahlgren Quad, about sixty students, faculty, and staff spoke on the importance of the protest and solidarity with Nike workers.

“Hear the prayers we make today for all women and men who are deprived of the fruit of their labors and find tears rather than joy in their work,” said Father Drew Christiansen as part of a prayer for workers. “We pray especially for the Nike workers in Vietnam who suffer exploitation at the hands of their employers. They are denied the dignity you have bestowed upon them.”

Ferrara, who first received the sit-in students, and university spokesperson Rachel Pugh have not immediately replied to an email request for comment.

-Lilah Burke


Editor’s note: This post will be updated as more information becomes available.

Lilah Burke
Lilah Burke is the former executive news editor of the Georgetown Voice. She graduated from the School of Foreign Service in 2018.

Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller is a former news editor of The Georgetown Voice. Follow him on Twitter @MILLERdfillmore for unabashed tweets about the Sacramento Kings.

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