Despite President Martha Pollack’s announcement Monday that the University will no longer license official apparel through Nike once the current supply is sold out, Cornell athletics teams will continue to sport the famed swoosh this upcoming season.
After the company refused to adhere to a labor code of conduct vetted by Cornell and peer institutions, the University ended its contract with Nike and Branded Custom Sportswear — Nike’s exclusive licensee for collegiate apparel. But the athletics teams operate on a separate contract, which will remain in place for the next three years.
“Cornell athletes will continue to wear Nike uniforms. … Our relationship with Nike is separate from the University’s apparel licensing agreement,” Athletic Director Andy Noel said in a statement to The Sun. He added that the separate contract runs through 2020 in a partnership that has been a “positive one for our programs and athletes.”
Nike’s relationship with Cornell has two main components: the apparel licensing contract, which was addressed by Pollack, and the sports sponsorship contract, which remains separate.
Per an athletics department spokesperson, five teams fall under the sponsorship with Nike — football, men’s and women’s lacrosse, and men’s and women’s basketball — and all others have the choice to purchase uniforms at wholesale cost. A majority choose to do so under Nike.
Even though the athletic sponsorship will continue, Nike said in a statement that it is “disappointed” that Cornell cut ties with Branded Custom Sportswear despite maintaining “ongoing dialogue.”
“We are deeply committed to protecting workers across our supply chain and have worked tirelessly to raise standards across the industry,” Nike said.
Cornell Organization for Labor Action was one the leading groups behind the campaign to sever licensing ties with the sporting goods behemoth. Ana Jimenez ’18, a COLA organizer, said that the fight by United Students Against Sweatshops — a national student organization advocating for worker’s rights — against Nike is rooted in the brand’s attempt to undermine years of work to strengthen the labor standards of factories producing collegiate apparel.
“This is a national campaign we’ve seen at other schools affiliated with USAS — they’ve been successful in cutting their licensing agreements with Nike and are now moving towards ending their sponsorship deals,” she explained. “Simply with licensing, [schools] pay the brand to produce apparel, [and] with sponsorship, Nike provides the gear to advertise their brand on students as if they were human billboards.”
Jimenez added that the decision for the athletics department to remain with Nike is “an issue of hypocrisy.”
“Even though we are only selling what is left in the store, if you go to a football game or another sports team’s game that is sponsored by Nike, that swoosh sign on their jerseys continues to generate money for the brand in spite of the fact that Nike has yet to restore work at Hansae and refuses to commit to [Workers Rights Consortium] access,” she said in regards to ongoing concerns with a Nike factory in Vietnam.
According to a COLA press release, Cornell is now the fifth example of schools ending a licensing agreement with Nike.
Of the others — Georgetown, Northeastern, the entire University of California system and Rutgers — UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara and Rutgers are schools which have additionally cut off their athletic sponsorship agreement with Nike in addition to licensing.
It was announced earlier this year that Rutgers would be making the switch from Nike to Adidas in a six-year contract worth over $11 million, which officially took place on July 1. However, in a statement to The Sun, the Rutgers athletic department said the transition was unrelated to the alleged labor violations.
“Our contract with Nike expired and Adidas was the best fit for our athletic department moving forward,” said Kevin Lorincz, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Communications at Rutgers.
For the California schools, a Trademark Licensing Code of Conduct impacting all schools in the University of California system went into effect March 17 and targeted the licensing contracts, though it never explicitly mentions Nike nor athletic sponsorships.
“It is the policy of the University of California that goods bearing the names of the University or its campuses … must be produced under fair, safe, and humane working conditions,” the code said.
Nevertheless, UC Berkeley switched its athletic sponsorship from Nike to Under Armour with a 10-year agreement worth $86 million that takes effect this upcoming school year, though the switch appears to be related to money rather than working conditions. UCLA’s athletic program also made a switch, but was sponsored by Adidas when it committed to Under Armour in May 2016 with a 15-year agreement worth $280 million — the largest in NCAA history. Like Rutgers, the deal took effect this past July 1st.
UC Santa Barbra, however, cited concerns with Nike’s factory conditions as the reasoning for cutting off the athletics sponsorship in addition to licensing — something COLA would like to see happen in Ithaca.
Moving forward at Cornell, Jimenez said that the continued fight against Nike will look to ensure that “all sports agreements are held to the same labor standards.”
“If our values and logos are being used in conjunction with Nike, and in general all the brands we have relationships with, the next step is to provide stronger labor provisions across all our contracts,” she said. “That includes guaranteed access to WRC access, our university designated and world’s only independent monitor [of working conditions].”