The University of Maryland became the latest college to see campus protests erupt against Nike over the closing of two factories in Honduras that had been operated by Nike subcontractors. Activists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell University and Purdue University have also protested alleged illegal wage practices following the closure of the Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex factories in January 2009.
The groups are looking for Nike to cover up to $2.5 million in severance allegedly owed to the displaced workers.
On Maryland’s campus, members of Feminism Without Borders on March 10 covered the Terrapin statues in Stamp Student Union and in front of McKeldin Library with aluminum foil to protest the university’s apparel contract with Nike, according to Diamondback, a university newspaper. The group’s president Mary Yanik told the newspaper that the aluminum foil represented “that our school’s continued licensing relationship with Nike reflects poorly on the university. It was a play on words, like a reflection.”
Students also handed out fliers and displayed signs with plays of Nike’s slogans, “Just Pay It” and “Unswooshable Starts Here.”
The action came after a letter submitted to university President Dan Mote last month calling Nike’s actions a flagrant violation of the university’s fair labor code of conduct went unanswered. Feminism Without Borders is affiliated with United Students Against Sweatshops, an international coalition of activists centered around worker’s rights.
As reported, Cornell’s chapter of Students Against Sweatshops met with University administrators late February and then issued a statement claiming Nike stopped sourcing from the Honduran factories, forcing a liquidation. The group then claimed Nike refused to pay their workers approximately $2.1 of $2.5 million in severance pay legally mandated by the Honduran Government.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Purdue University both said in December they were reviewing alleged workers rights abuses at two factories. Nike has said the contractors were forced to close due to insolvency but said it is working to resolve the severance issue.
On March 19, the Student Labor Action Coalition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison held a musical protest outside Chancellor Biddy Martin’s office to encourage UW-Madison to cut its apparel contract with Nike, according to the Daily Cardinal, a college newspaper. Martin had previously given Nike a 120-day deadline to take action on the issue, and that deadline expires April 7.
Martin, who met with the organizers, told The Daily Cardinal that she would sever the contract with Nike if they did not remedy the situation to a significant degree.
“I dont think they have been adequately responsive to what weve asked them to do about the situation in Honduras yet,” Martin said before the protest. While no formal plans are in place in case Nike fails to rectify the situation, Martin added that the “appropriate people are at least thinking about plans for the future.”