Cornell’s newly-founded Licensing Oversight Committee hit the ground running in its first meeting Tuesday, pledging to renew business relations with Russell Athletics and investigating the abuses alleged by two aggrieved former Honduran workers for Nike, both of whom spoke at the University on Tuesday. The University currently holds two contracts with Nike.
In a press release, the Cornell Students Against Sweatshops said that the LOC was created in response to CSAS’s “Just Do It” campaign, which demands Nike pay “over $2.1 million in severance to Honduran workers … [for] legally mandated service compensation.”
CSAS is working in the afterglow of what The New York Times called the student anti-sweatshop movement’s “biggest victory by far” when, in November, Russell Athletics agreed to rehire 1,200 Honduran workers in response to the termination of 89 universities’ contracts with Russell. Cornell was among the schools to terminate its Russell contract. On
Tuesday, the LOC agreed to “reward [Russell] for correcting its mistakes and to begin sourcing from them again.”
CSAS hopes to pressure Nike to pay reparations in the same way — by threatening the corporation’s Cornell contracts “through the athletic department, where Nike sponsors clothing for teams” and “[for] regular Cornell apparel,” according to LOC member and CSAS President Alex Bores ’13.
In a conference call, Nike responded, “it is not [our] responsibility to take care of sub-contract workers,” adding that the company has already “done things that [it was not] required to do, like setting up an employee-training program.”
The Hondurans who had worked for factories that, according to CSAS, “predominantly produced Nike goods,” however, feel differently. Along with United Students Against Sweatshops, a few of the workers visited Cornell and the committee on Tuesday.
Gina Cano, who worked for five years in the Nike sub-contracted Haddad Group factory Hugger de Honduras before it closed, accused Nike of not paying for forced overtime wages and only being paid 21.5 percent of her severance package.
She also said that Nike set “unreasonably high quotas” for shifts, thus forcing the workers to “work overtime … and not be paid for it.”
Lowlee Urquina worked for the Vision Tex factory for three years before it closed. She said that Nike uses “sub-contractors to do dirty work [to] alleviate Nike of any responsibility.”
“We are fighting for justice and we are not going to drop it,” Urquina said with tears in her eyes.
The LOC showed Nike its willingness to press the company into coming clean with information.
On Tuesday, the LOC agreed to send a letter to Nike “publicly addressing concerns about the situation in Honduras,” according to CSAS’s press release.
The University “considers these labor rights violations of the subcontractors to break University codes of conduct, to which Nike is obligated to follow,” the press release said.
The letter requested a response from Nike officials by Apr. 16.
The decision to begin to reinstate Russell’s contract represents the final stage in a long effort for student activists. The company initially closed its factory, workers and activists alleged, when workers began using their collective bargaining rights to form a union.
At first, Russell resisted reinstating the workers. But when enough schools — including Cornell — cancelled their contracts, the apparel manufacturer relented.
Still, Bill Peterson ’10, a member of both CSAS and the LOC, said that Russell’s decision to ultimately “do the right thing” deserved to be rewarded. Doing so would create a “race-to-the-top” in which “consumers can help … respect the rights and wishes of the workers,” Peterson said.
Bores emphasized that the CSAS’ recent successes represented “student power” to influence the moral practices of companies.
“We, as consumers, have the power to help workers around the world who are demanding a better life for themselves,” Bores said.