Once again labor activists show what can be accomplished when they unite. Last year, United Students Against Sweatshops activists successfully pressured Russell Athletic to rehire 1,200 workers in Honduras when the Jerzees de Honduras factory closed after they unionized.This time however, students achieved a lot more. Nike in a compromise with a Honduran labor federation, Central General de Trabajadores, representing the workers laid off, agreed to pay $1.54 million to a relief fund for workers who had lost their jobs when two Nike subcontractors closed their factories. Surprising isn’t it? It becomes even more shocking when one takes into consideration that on April 20th, Nike made a statement discouraging the two subcontractors Hugger and Vision Tex for their failure to pay any compensation to the workers, but did not accept its own responsibility by paying the workers.
The Workers Rights Consortium released a report indicating how the subcontractors owed around $2 million to workers in indemnification and sent it to different universities to make them aware of the situation. United Students Against Sweatshops held protests and created a strong public awareness campaign with the slogan “Just Pay It”. Students urged their universities to end contracts with Nike if it refused to compensate workers. The students’ calls were heard at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where the licensing committee ended its licensing agreement with Nike. Likewise, the licensing committee at Cornell University threatened not to renew its contract with Nike.
Nike, a producer of college-logo apparel would have been hurt if more universities would have followed the lead of University of Wisconsin. Instead, fearing more protests from students, Nike agreed to give money to a relief fund so that the 1,200 workers would receive benefits like health care for one year and preference for job openings in other factories. Nike’s response has clearly been a victory for workers around the world struggling in an industry dominated by fly by night employers that are consistently opening and closing factories in order to avoid their legal requirements. The agreement between Nike and CGT shows that when students and workers come together, there is an incredible opportunity to exert power and obtain justice from even the most powerful corporations in the world.
Students, though, are not the only ones who can create change with sweatshop workers. In addition to United Students Against Sweatshops, the Maquila Solidarity Network also played a key role in advocating for Nike to take responsibility for the unpaid wages of the Hugger and Vision Tex workers. Click here to learn how you can add your voice in demanding dignity for factory workers.