On August 30, Georgetown University and Nike announced they had signed a new licensing agreement that will give the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) access to conduct inspections of working conditions in Nike supplier factories producing university-licensed products.
The agreement includes a commitment by Nike that the supplier factories will comply with IMG College Licensing’s Labor Code Standards, which are aligned with Georgetown’s Code of Conduct standards and serve as minimum labour standards for a number of other universities.
Georgetown also facilitated the development of a new protocol between Nike and the WRC for factory investigations, which commits Nike to use its economic leverage to provide the WRC access to supplier factories in order to verify compliance with university codes of conduct, and reaffirms the WRC’s right to publish reports on investigative findings and the status of corrective action.
The WRC is a US-based independent monitoring organization that carries out inspections of labour practices in factories producing licensed apparel and other products for 190 North American colleges and universities, as well as for some US municipal governments. Many of the WRC factory inspections are conducted in response to complaints filed by workers, unions and other interested parties.
The agreement comes after a lengthy campaign by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) on 25 university campuses, demanding that Nike cease pressuring their universities to renegotiate existing licensing agreements to give Nike the power to veto factory monitoring organizations chosen by the universities.
Nike’s attempt to renegotiate university licensing agreements followed a dispute at its Hansae supplier factory in Vietnam where Nike attempted to deny the WRC access to the factory to investigate the causes of a wildcat strike by workers.
The USAS campaign was supported by hundreds of university faculty members and by a number of labour and human rights organizations, including the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), Human Rights Watch, and the Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN).
In a July 3 letter to Nike, MSN called on the company to respect the right of universities to require suppliers of university-licensed products to comply with university codes of conduct and to choose the monitoring organizations to verify compliance with those standards. On August 9, MSN, CCC and ILRF sent a joint letter to the Fair Labor Association (FLA), in which Nike is a Participating Company, urging the FLA to publicly declare its support for the right of universities to choose their monitoring organizations and for those organizations to have access to university supplier factories.
From 2000-2008, MSN played a leading role in campaigns for the adoption of ethical licensing policies by Canadian universities. One outcome of MSN’s efforts and the campaigns by university students across the country is that 11 Canadian universities are now members of the WRC and/or the FLA.