After securing several victories in advocating for improved labor conditions in clothing factories, 15 members of Cornell Organization for Labor Action urged the University to continue fighting for increased supervision of the production of Nike materials.
In 2015, Nike denied the Worker Rights Consortium — an independent labor watchdog — access to its factory in Hansae, Vietnam, which produces university logo goods, according to COLA’s letter to administrators. This denial of access was the result of a worker walkout over labor abuses and poor working conditions — including pregnant women fainting due to extreme heat.
Since then, Nike has granted the WRC access to the Hansae factory for 24 hours, according to the letter. However, COLA requests that Interim President Hunter Rawlings encourage Nike to allow the WRC 48-hour access to the factory, so the WRC can formulate a more accurate picture of the factory conditions.
“Twenty-four hours is not enough time to accurately inspect a factory if the group is to thoroughly inspect documents and interview workers,” said Katy Habr ’18, a member of COLA. “Nike’s solution is not enough.”
Ana Jimenez ’18, a member of COLA, agreed, saying it normally takes the WRC 48 hours to complete this type of investigation.
“[COLA wants] to get a commitment from Nike that this will not happen again,” Jimenez said. “We also want to make sure that Nike’s actions with the WRC do not set precedent for other brands. We urge Cornell to strengthen its contract language to hold sponsorship brands accountable to our Code of Conduct.”
A COLA victory would not be without precedent. According to the letter, COLA has won similar campaigns with JanSport, Russell, Adidas and even Nike itself in the last five years. Relations with Nike were restored after labor standards improved.
“Cornell has a history of leading other universities in pushing companies, such as Nike, to adopt better labor practices through administrative actions as advocated for by COLA and similar student groups,” said Alex Klein ’18, a member of COLA. “We truly hope to see Cornell continue being a leader amongst other universities on this issue.”
The letter also asks the University to modify its sponsorship agreements to include “language developed by the Worker Rights Consortium and United States Against Sweatshops” that is currently used in the University’s licensing agreements.
“Incorporating this language will bind Nike to preventative measures and better conditions for workers, which are clearly necessary at this point in time,” the letter states.
Not only does COLA advocate a “sweatshop free” University, but it also urges the University to pressure Nike “to transform their labor practices for the better,” according to the letter.
COLA wants to ensure that Cornell is “the best labor school in the nation” and is “at the forefront of encouraging human rights for workers around the world,” the letter says.