University allows Nike contract to expire while protesters face student conduct meetings

January 3, 2017

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

Georgetown’s licensing contract with Nike expired on Dec. 31, and the university and apparel company continue to negotiate a new agreement just weeks after a student protest led to the university verbally agreeing to ask Nike to allow third-party monitoring group the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) independent access to its factories. Eight students who spent the night in University President John DeGioia’s office during the sit-in also received an email Jan. 3 informing them of a mandatory meeting with the Office of Student Conduct.

In a statement, Cal Watson, chair of the Licensing Oversight Committee (LOC), said the university wants the new contract to include independent monitoring of and reporting from the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) on Nike factories where Georgetown apparel is produced. The university has also asked that Nike adhere to the principles of its licensee Code of Conduct, which asks companies using the Georgetown brand to conduct their business in a socially responsible way “consistent with its Jesuit tradition.”

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

Georgetown believes that principled and practical engagement is the best way to ensure the safety, welfare and rights of workers in factories that produce Georgetown-branded apparel,” Watson said in the statement.

Until a new contract is reached, no new Georgetown-branded Nike apparel will be ordered or produced, and university bookstores will continue to sell apparel purchased or ordered under the most recent contract.

Watson’s statement did not say when the university hopes to reach its new agreement with Nike, and the university’s sponsorship contract with Nike, which provides student-athletes Nike apparel, remains in effect.

The expiration of the contract comes just weeks after members of Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) stormed DeGioia’s office and occupied the space for almost 35 hours to protest Nike’s refusal to allow independent WRC access in its factories and to adhere to the licensee Code of Conduct. During the sit-in, eight students remained in the office after its closing for the night and now face possible sanctions for two alleged Student Code of Conduct violations: failure to comply with a university official or law enforcement officer and unauthorized access.

Sophie Bauerschmidt Sweeney (COL ‘17), a GSC member who remained in DeGioia’s office for the duration of the protest, called the potential punishment ironic given that the university is enforcing its code of conduct for students but not enforcing its code of conduct for licensees with Nike.

“Unlike Nike, a student would never be given the free rein to do whatever they want without having to abide by a code,” she wrote in an email to the Voice.

The eight students received a letter from Whitney Maddox, judicial coordinator in the Office of Student Conduct, asking them to meet with Dean of Students Jeanne Lorde this month to discuss the issue, according to Bauerschmidt Sweeney.

The students were not informed what specific punishments they may face if found guilty of the charges, Bauerschmidt Sweeney said, but the student Code of Conduct lists both charges as typically resolved via administrative action, meaning a conduct officer finds the student responsible and assigns sanctions.

Additionally, GSC members met with DeGioia and the LOC a week after the sit-in to discuss the Nike contract. Bauerschmidt Sweeney said the meeting was not productive because DeGioia had not been present at any meeting with students concerning Nike during the past year. Bauerschmidt Sweeney also expressed frustration with the university’s engagement with students after the protest ended.

“It often took many [GSC] members emailing in coordination to get a response, and the updates we have been given haven’t included any substantive details on how negotiations with Nike are going,” she wrote.

Bauerschmidt Sweeney said GSC does not have a specific timeline for when it would like to see the new contract signed and simply wants the university to follow through on its agreement with the group only to sign a contract that includes full, independent WRC access and reporting and adherence to the licensee Code of Conduct. Despite the request, Bauerschmidt Sweeney said she thinks it is unlikely that Nike will acquiesce to these demands.

“Part of what makes the negotiation process so frustrating is that the administrators seem totally confident that they will be able to persuade Nike to do the right thing despite no indications from Nike that they are going to budge,” she wrote.

Nike spokesperson Sabrina Oei wrote in an email to the Voice that Nike is hopeful it will reach an agreement on the licensing contract.

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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