Chancellor Biddy Martin requested in writing Friday that Nike address issues of workers’ rights abuses at two of its Honduras-based subcontractors within the next four months or allow its contract with the University of Wisconsin to expire.
In a letter to the Labor Licensing Policy Committee — an advisory body to the chancellor — Martin said she would give Nike four months to make progress in remedying unfair labor practices that may violate UW’s code of conduct.
The Nike subcontractors under scrutiny — Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex — both closed their factories Jan. 19, 2009 without prior notice to workers and have since neglected to pay severance and back wages totaling $2.1 million to former employees. The factories are believed to have manufactured products bearing the UW logo.
Failure to fully compensate workers after the factories closed may be a violation of the code of conduct UW has with all licensees, according to Dawn Crim, special assistant to Martin.
However, it is unclear whether the factories were still subcontracted to Nike when the plants closed in January, Crim said.
“There is not sufficient evidence to determine that there has been a breach (of contract) in the strict legal sense,” Martin said in her letter.
Martin added she believes Nike is working to resolve the situation, but UW will give the company 120 days to make progress.
“If, at the close of 120 days, there is no resolution or indication of satisfactory, demonstrable progress toward resolution, we will let the relationship with Nike lapse,” Martin said.
That lapse would happen at the end of June, Crim said.
Martin’s letter to the LLPC follows the committee’s November meeting in which members advised Martin in a 7-2 vote to terminate UW’s contract with Nike for its possible contract violation.
UW’s Student Labor Action Coalition said they think Martin’s request that Nike make “satisfactory, demonstrable progress” is insufficient and immeasurable.
“We’d like [Martin] to tell Nike that they have two options: either respect the workers and the code of conduct or follow the LLPC’s recommendations and cut the contract with Nike,” said Daniel Cox, a SLAC member.
Cox believes if UW terminates its contract with Nike, other universities will follow suit, producing a critical mass of institutions that can affect change.
Crim said she agrees the key to improving labor practices is to form a coalition among universities, but believes if UW terminates its contract with Nike it will lose its leverage in the industry.
SLAC will contact Martin beginning Monday to ask her to take a stronger stand against Nike, said Jan Van Tol, a SLAC member.
Van Tol thinks the only condition under which UW should continue its contract with Nike is if the company pays workers the $2.1 million they are owed.
“Let’s not kid ourselves — Nike can pay that money tomorrow if it wanted,” Van Tol said. “It’s not exactly a difficult thing for a company that makes billions of dollars a year to cut a check to workers. It’s baffling why [UW] needs four months to make progress toward that.”