[UPDATED]: Student sit-in against Nike ends on second day after agreement with university

December 9, 2016

Photo: Ryan Miller/Georgetown Voice

Editor’s note: A group of student activists began an occupation of University President John DeGioia’s office around 10 a.m. Dec. 8. Read the Voice’s coverage of the second day below. This post will be updated throughout the day.

10:00 p.m. update:

Seven students ended their sit-in inside of University President John DeGioia’s office around 8:30 p.m. Friday after Georgetown agreed that it would not re-sign and renew its licensing contract with Nike unless the company allows full, independent access for the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) in all of its factories.

The university agreed to hold a meeting between DeGioia, student protesters, and the Licensing Oversight Committee before Dec. 14 to discuss the negotiations with Nike, confirm its agreement to renew its Nike contract only with WRC access and reporting, and discuss labor codes of conduct and how to incorporate these standards into future agreements.

Georgetown has not yet released a written statement demanding WRC access be part of its licensing contract with Nike, but professors John Kline and Joseph A. McCartin served as witnesses to the verbal agreement reached between the university and the student protesters.

Either Nike agrees to [the university’s demand] and we win the national campaign, or they don’t and we win the Georgetown campaign of cutting the contract,” said Sophie Bauerschmidt Sweeney (COL ‘17), one of the seven students who remained inside the office for the duration of the protest.

GSC had initially demanded the university cut the licensing contract regardless of WRC oversight, however they agreed to end the sit-in after the agreement was reached.

“Making this agreement is huge, but it means a lot more. It means a lot for here but it means a lot for beyond Georgetown as well. This means a lot for campaigns at other schools, and also for this campaign about garment work and licensing at universities around the country,” Lily Ryan (COL ‘18) said.

Nike spokesperson Sabrina Oei reiterated that Nike remains hopeful of reaching an agreement with Georgetown on its licensing contract.

DeGioia’s Chief of Staff Joe Ferrara said it was a good discussion with students and thanked Kline and McCartin for helping in the negotiation process toward the end of the protest.

Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson said that he told students inside DeGioia’s office that they would hear from the Office of Student Conduct in the coming week regarding disciplinary sanctions. It was not immediately clear what specific punishment students will face, but Olson said student conduct plans to review each case individually.

Sonia Adjroud (SFS ‘20), one of the seven students who remained inside the office for the duration of the protest, said the GSC must continue its work.

“This is not the end,” Adjroud said. “There is definitely a lot of work ahead of us, and I really do that think we need to be looking towards next steps.”

-Ryan Miller

7:00 p.m. update:

Professors John Kline and Joseph A. McCartin have begun circulating an open letter for faculty to sign demanding that all of Georgetown’s licensing contracts, including contracts with Nike, be in compliance with Georgetown’s code of conduct for licensees, which asks companies that use Georgetown’s logo to adhere to socially responsible business practices.

Nike is the only university licensee that has not signed onto the code of conduct.

“The absolute minimum condition for a continued license with Nike must be that the exceptional treatment is ended and Nike accepts the same contractual obligations to Georgetown’s Code that apply to every other licensee,” the letter reads.

The letter is still being circulated, however members of Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) forwarded the Voice an electronic copy of the letter.

Kline is a member of Georgetown’s Licensing Oversight Committee (LOC), which provides guidance to the university’s leadership regarding trademark licensing policy to ensure its licensees keep with the university’s values, and McCartin is a member of the Georgetown University Advisory Committee on Business Practices, which works with Georgetown’s Vice President for Public Affairs and Senior Advisor to the President on the business practices of the university’s staff labor policy and contracts with vendors.

“Nike’s actions over the past year in the Hansae factory case raise serious questions about whether its attitude and operations are compatible with Georgetown values,” the letter continues.

The Hansae factory is the main factory of concern for GSC students who continue to sit in inside and outside University President John DeGioia’s office.

The three demands in the letter are that all licensees, including Nike, sign the code of conduct, that no company is exempt from the code or given special treatment in monitoring, and that university athletic equipment be manufactured under the same code or seek another company to supply the gear that does adhere to the code.

“Unless these steps are taken, Georgetown will forfeit its justly deserved reputation as a leader in the fight against sweatshops” the letter concludes. “The time has come for us to show by example what it means to ‘become women and men for others.’”

-Ryan Miller

6:15 p.m. update:

In a meeting inside University President John DeGioia’s office with the door open to allow students outside to hear, DeGioia’s Chief of Staff Joe Ferrara and Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson met with student protesters to offer them a meeting with DeGioia for early next week and to set up daily meetings between Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) and administrators to discuss Georgetown’s ongoing contract negotiations with Nike.

Ferrara reiterated Georgetown’s commitment to trying to gain full, independent access to Nike factories for the Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC), a third-party monitoring group formed by United Students Against Sweatshops, as well as the freedom for the group to issue independent reports. Ferrara said the university and Nike have gone back and forth on this issue, but that the contract would include full, independent access for the WRC “in an ideal world.”

Ferrara said he is unsure if the university would sign a contract that does not include full, independent WRC access and reporting.

Student protester Sophie Bauerschmidt Sweeney (COL ‘17) pushed back against the idea that WRC access was an “ideal world” situation.

“You make it sound like it’s not an easily possible thing. This is something that Nike has done in the past. They’ve since reversed their position. All we’re asking is that they go back to allowing full, independent WRC access,” she said to Ferrara.

In the past, the WRC has only been allowed access in tandem visits with the Fair Labor Association, another monitoring group which student activists have viewed as favoring the companies over workers.

The students asked for a written statement from the university that says it will not renew the contract without full, independent WRC access and reporting. Ferrara said he could not give an answer, but would work with other administrators to get a response as soon as possible.

Seven students remain inside DeGioia’s office and said they are running out of food. GUPD has not allowed anyone to bring food or other items into the office for the students.

Ferrara also expressed concern for the students’ health. Isabelle Teare (COL ‘18), one of the eight students who stayed overnight, left earlier this morning because she was sick.

“We are also concerned about our health, but we’re more concerned about the ongoing health of workers in Vietnam,” Lily Ryan (COL ‘18) told Ferrara.

Around 20 students remain sitting in outside the office, and Andrew Abad (COL ’20), a GSC member, said the group inside the office is still debating whether they will stay the night once again.

“We’re prepared to do what we have to do, but we’re just trying to expedite this process because the people in there have been in there well over 24 hours and this debate as a whole has been going on for 14 months,” Abad said. “So time is of the essence.”

-Ryan Miller

3:15 p.m. update:

In a statement to the Voice, Sabrina Oei, a spokesperson for Nike, wrote that Nike has been at the forefront of improving workers’ rights in the factories the company has contracted.

“We established a Code of Conduct in 1992, were the first in our industry to disclose our supply chain locations to drive collaboration and transparency, and have led in establishing a consistent process for independent third party investigations across our 665 contract factory suppliers,” Oei wrote in an email to the Voice.

Oei also wrote that Nike submits to the audits of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a network of universities, companies, and civil society organizations, that Nike helped create in 1999. However, in response to students’ calls for Nike to accept Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) oversight, Oei wrote that Nike thinks the WRC, co-founded by the United Students Against Sweatshops organization, has a conflict of interest issue in the situation.

“We respect the Worker Rights Consortium’s (WRC) commitment to workers’ rights while recognizing that the WRC was co-created by United Students Against Sweatshops, a campaigning organization that does not represent the multi-stakeholder approach that we believe provides valuable, long-lasting change,” wrote Oei. “We value the role of campaigning bodies; however, we believe there are inherent conflicts of interest between campaigning and auditing.”

Specifically addressing the Hansae facility in Vietnam, the conditions of which students are protesting against, Oei wrote that the FLA had audited the factory this past July and oversaw an WRC investigation in accordance with a joint agreement between the FLA and Georgetown. Oei called for a continued partnership between FLA and WRC and outlined the steps Nike has already taken within the factory, including implementing sanctions to curtail Nike orders in the factory to just three percent of the facilities’ total output.

“Hansae management, with Nike and FLA’s oversight, has developed a comprehensive remediation plan that addresses all of the issues identified in the joint investigation,” wrote Oei. “Many corrective actions have already been implemented and we are closely monitoring Hansae’s progress against its remediation plan.”

Nike represents one of over 30 brands contracting at Hansae.

Around 16 students remain in the foyer outside of President DeGioia’s office in support of the seven inside. Mark Lance, a professor in Georgetown’s philosophy and Justice and Peace Studies department, briefly sat in solidarity with the protestors for thirty minutes.

“I believe [these students are] holding Georgetown to what Georgetown needs to be, and I think it’s important for this community as a whole to recognize that and support these guys who are doing the right thing,” said Lance. “This case is fairly clear: [the administration] should do what the students are asking them to do and enforce our Code of Conduct.”

-Margaret Gach

12:10 p.m. update:

Isabelle Teare (COL ‘18) left University President John DeGioia’s office Friday morning due to health concerns, Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) said in a statement. Seven students remain inside the office.

-Ryan Miller

11:55 a.m. update:

President DeGioia’s Chief of Staff Joe Ferrara met with the eight students inside the DeGioia’s office to discuss the university’s progress in working with Nike.

Ferrara said in the meeting, which the Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) livestreamed on Facebook, that the university is trying to reach an agreement that will both keep the licensing contract and also allow the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) into Nike’s factories. He said the university is pushing to reach agreement before Dec. 31 when the contract expires.

“I just want to be to respectful. I want to come in here and just tell you where we are. And I’m telling you the truth. It may be a frustrating truth. It may not be where you want us to be at this moment. And we are pushing hard, and I do believe we are having good serious conversations with Nike,” Ferrara told the students.

Students inside expressed frustration to Ferrara around the university not cutting the licensing contract and only seeking WRC access right now.

“We need to cut the licensing agreement so [Nike] actually take[s] Georgetown seriously,” Sophie Bauerschmidt Sweeney (COL ‘17) said on the livestream.

Students asked for a commitment that they would not receive further student Code of Conduct violations until Nike signs Georgetown’s Licensee Code of Conduct, which asks the university’s licensees to adhere to socially responsible business practices. Ferrara said that he could not promise that because it was an issue of student affairs and Vice President for Student Affairs  Todd Olson would meet with the students later. Nike is the only company with a license that has not signed the Code of Conduct.

Students continued their vow to remain in DeGioia’s office until the contract is cut. Around 13 students remained outside the office at 11:45 a.m.

Additionally, a group of three to four GSC members plan to follow Ferrara around campus throughout the day.

University spokesperson Rachel Pugh said that the university is continuing its conversations with Nike today and reiterated the university’s position from yesterday that it is working to ensure WRC access while keeping the licensing contract.

-Ryan Miller

10:45 a.m. update: (original posting time)

Eight student activists from Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) remain inside University President John DeGioia’s office on Friday morning after staying overnight to protest Georgetown’s relationship with Nike.

Students began arriving in the foyer outside the office around 6:30 a.m. to continue the second day of the sit-in supporting the students still inside. By 10 a.m., nine students were present outside the office.

The eight students who remain inside are Sophie Bauerschmidt Sweeney (COL ‘17), Patrick Bylis (COL ‘17), Lily Ryan (COL ‘18), Isabelle Teare (COL ‘18), Joseph Gomez (SFS ‘19), Kory Stuer (COL ‘19), Gabe Mielke (SFS’ 20), and Sonia Adjroud (SFS ‘20).

“If administrators are as uncooperative today as they were yesterday, we are going to escalate,” Mielke wrote in a statement that GSC released this morning. “We want to talk to DeGioia, he’s the final decisionmaker. Why can’t he at least talk to us?”

President DeGioia was not present at first day of the sit-in, and the group said that he has not attended a single Licensing Oversight Committee (LOC) meeting. The LOC provides guidance to the university’s leadership regarding trademark licensing policy to ensure its licensees keep with the university’s values.

“Jesuit values aren’t just slogans to us. We really believe in the values that Georgetown claims, and I think a part of me hoped that the administrators would stick to our values in the really simple way we are asking. This is a sad day for Georgetown,” Gomez wrote in the statement.

GSC also said that administrators continued to tell them yesterday that the university is seeking to influence Nike and their practices, though they do not see this as an effective tactic.

The protesters have asked for the university to cut its licensing contract with Nike, which allows the company to use Georgetown’s logo and sell its apparel, and have also demanded that the university ensure the Worker Rights Consortium, a third party monitoring group, is allowed full and independent access to factories under Georgetown’s sponsorship agreement, which provides Georgetown athletics with its apparel for student-athletes.

The licensing contract is set to expire Dec. 31. Students vow not to leave DeGioia’s office until the contract ends.

Chanting began around 8:30 a.m. as students inside and outside shouted words of solidarity through the walls to each other.

“When Nike workers are under attack, what do we do?” they asked inside. “Stand up, fight back,” the group outside responded. They also sang songs to the tunes of Christmas carols.

University spokesperson Rachel Pugh has not returned an email request for comment.

-Ryan Miller

Contributing: Jack Townsend

Margaret Gach
Margaret is the former editor-in-chief of The Georgetown Voice. She was a STIA major and heroically fought for the right to make every print headline a pun.

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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