I write to bring you up to date on an important issue. Some of you have been following the news and publicity about the workers of two now-closed apparel factories in Honduras, Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex. When the factories were closed in early 2009, their owners distributed to workers the proceeds from the sale of factory assets, but these funds failed to provide workers a combined total of more than $2 million in legally mandated severance and back wages.

Why, you might be wondering, does UW-Madison have an interest in the apparel industry in Central America? You might also be wondering how this affects you as a student.

Let me take a moment to explain. Both factories are believed to have produced collegiate-licensed apparel for Nike. Nike is a UW-Madison licensee. UW-Madison and other universities concerned about sweatshop abuses require licensees to sign a code of conduct that governs many aspects of production and aims to curb abuses of textile-industry workers.

Products bearing our name are made in more than 3,300 factories in 47 countries worldwide. Royalty income contributes to the support of “Bucky Grants,” an important need-based financial aid program of which some of you are recipients.

It might seem unlikely that the actions we take here in Madison can have a major impact on a multibillion-dollar industry and corporate powerhouses such as Nike. But the efforts and dedication of our students, faculty and staff are on the vanguard of colleges and universities nationally, and we can cite cases in which our combined efforts have made a difference. Policies created here are modeled nationally.

In the most recent case, the Labor Licensing Policy Committee recommended, and I agreed, that we should give Nike notice of our intent to let our relationship lapse if the situation is not remedied.

I have given Nike 120 days. We are deeply concerned about the workers, who are each owed an average of $1,000, according to the reports of our independent monitoring organization, the Worker Rights Consortium. And we are worried about the failure of Nike and its subcontractors to remedy the situation. As complicated as supply-chain issues are in the 21st century, the code of conduct to which our licensees agree includes responsibility for subcontractors’ adherence to the code.

After discussing this issue with Nike executives, I believe the company itself agrees it has a responsibility to address the problem. Though they caution the solution cannot be achieved right away, I hope our stance and effort to build collaboration with other institutions will help lead to a resolution. At this point, as far as we know, no other university has joined us in giving Nike notice, but at least one other university is considering the same stance.

Here is my appeal to you: To date, a small but dedicated core of students, faculty and staff has been active on our campus. I would like to see more involvement and exchange.

Contact me at [email protected] or on Twitter, @biddymartin, or Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/BiddyMartin, to let me know more about the approach you think we should be taking. If you have friends or colleagues at other schools around the country, forward a copy of this article. It is our goal to build a coalition that will be heard by Nike and the industry.

Again, in this Nike effort and in many others, UW-Madison is a leader. I want that leadership to be thoughtful, cognizant of realities on the ground and effective. We want our persistence and engagement to help prevent sweatshop abuses.