Saturday, April 10, 2010

A tipping point in long struggle against Nike and its policies?

After a worker rights activist, Jeff Ballinger, started targeting Nike in 1992 for its anti-labor policies, a prominent union leader advised him to forget it: Nike was just too big to expect to make a dent in it. That negative view long seemed accurate, but student leaders by the hundreds, some encouraged by Jeff himself and his publication, “Press for Change,” refused to believe it.

On April 9 the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced that it is severing its ties with Nike – the first to do so in a national campaign coordinated by the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). That followed a significant breakthrough in which two Dominican Republic factories have started making sweat-free products for U.S. university bookstores (see the April 8 issue of Human Rights for Workers).

Could this be the tipping in a campaign long deemed hopeless?

The Wisconsin university’s decision came after its monitoring agent, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), found and publicized grievous violations of the university’s code of conduct by two of Nike supplier factories in Honduras, including a refusal to pay $2,200,000 in benefits and severance pay.

“It’s a major victory national,” Jonah Zinn, 19, a sophomore at Wisconsin, who was part of a student campaign urging the contract cancellation, as the university’s own Labor Licensing Policy Committee had recommended.

Not stopping there, USAS and its affiliates nation-wide are in the midst of a multi-campus “NIKE: Pay for It” tour. It includes a demonstration Sunday, April 12, at Niketown, off Central Park in New York City. Speakers include Rod Palmquist, USAS national organizer, and two former workers at the Honduras factories.

What can you do?

For one thing, check the USAS Website at for news, background, and action ideas.

In my view, the Nike Swoosh is a symbol of shame. I’d suggest, at the minimum, removing it from anything you might own.

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