The Cornell Organization for Labor Action gathered at Day Hall on Friday to deliver a letter to Interim President Hunter Rawlings demanding Cornell cut its contract with Nike after the Worker’s Rights Consortium — an independent labor watchdog — released a report detailing violations at Nike’s factory against workers.
In the letter, COLA explained that workers in the Hansae factory in Vietnam have been victim to wage theft, harassment, extreme temperatures leading to illness and manipulation by management, among other abuses — but when the WRC went to monitor the factory, Nike did not allow them in.
COLA claimed that Nike’s actions are a direct violation of Cornell’s code of conduct.
“We have specific language in our licensing agreement that says any business that we are partnered with must allow the Workers Rights Consortium in,” said COLA member Xavier Eddy ’19. “We cannot know if there’s been any change in these factories unless the Worker’s Rights Consortium is allowed in.”
COLA member Allison Considine ’17 added that the University has a responsibility to make sure that Nike’s actions do not go unpunished.
“As the home of the Industrial and Labor Relations School, many proud labor faculty and students, and as a name that Nike is benefitting from selling, we have a duty to stand up to injustice against workers where we see it,” Considine said.
The letter referenced Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia, who recently committed to severing the school’s contract with Nike at the end of the calendar year unless the brand allowed unwavering WRC factory access at its subcontracted factories, according to The Washington Post.
Eddy hopes Rawlings will take the same actions.
“If we can get enough universities to put pressure on Nike, Nike will change because it has a large impact on their profits,” he said. “When it comes down to it, that’s what they care about.”
The group has had success pressuring Cornell to withdraw support from companies due labor concerns in the past. In 2014, Cornell severed ties with Jansport due to worker safety concerns in Bangladesh, The Sun previously reported.
“This heavily impacted Jansport and did cause them to adjust their labor practices,” Eddy said.
Considine added that the University needs to continue to hold companies to this standard.
“It is important that Cornell take a stand, because we have a long and proud history of being a leading University in standing up against brands that violate workers’ rights,” Considine said.
Eddy said letter drops are a common tactic the group uses to voice concerns to the administration.
“It’s a really great way to remind the administration that the students are here and the students care,” he said.
The event mirrors several similar actions going back to November 2015, when COLA presented a similar letter to the office of former President Elizabeth Garrett.
Since President Rawlings has not yet chosen a strong position on the issue, COLA hopes their letter will get a response from the administration and cause them to make meaningful change.
“Actions like ours show Nike that they cannot get away with abusing their workers,” Considine said. “Students and others are watching and are ready to take action to prevent sweatshop apparel from bearing our school logo.”