Cornell University students campaign for severance pay for Nike employees, 2009-2010

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Timing
Time Period:  
27 February
2010
to
2 June
2010
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Ithaca, New York
Location Description: 
Cornell University
Goals: 
The goals of Cornell Students Against Sweatshops were to demand the university's condemnation of Nike's actions and require Nike to pay the severance pays rightfully deserved to workers who were laid off.
 

In January of 2009, subcontractors of the multinational sports apparel giant, Nike, forcibly shut down two of their major factories, Vision Tex and Hugger, in the Honduras. This left more than 1,800 laborers unemployed and without their legally entitled severance payments. The Workers Rights Consortium, an independent labor auditing organization, reported these concerns to over 100 universities in order to generate awareness of these issues, resulting in the formation of the nationwide student campaign, “Just Pay It.”

Image source: USAS, https://web.archive.org/web/20170408153511/http://usas.org/2010/07/06/nike-bites-the-dust-cornell-commits-to-dropping-nike/

Cornell USAS Campaign Logo

United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a grassroots organization of students, from over 150 college campuses, with the mission of protesting unfair and unlawful labor practices around the world spearheaded “Just Pay It.”

The campaign for severance pay and fair labor standards took place on several campuses, but it was heavily rooted in Cornell University, where Nike sponsored the entire athletics program. Nike’s failure to award severance pay, a direct breach of Cornell University’s clothing code of conduct, prompted the university’s chapter of USAS to protest the school’s licensing contracts with Nike.

While Nike attempted to justify their practices by claiming that the company had no control over the actions of Vision Tex and Hugger, Cornell’s policies required that the university’s partners hold their subcontractors to the same standards as the larger enterprise.

On 27 February 2010, to address Nike’s violations, Cornell’s chapter of Students Against Sweatshops (CSAS) held their first series of protests at the men’s basketball and hockey games. Five students passed out leaflets, which outlined the details of the campaign.

About a week later, on 10 March 2010, CSAS held a teach-in to allow students to learn more about the campaign. Professors from Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Lance Compa and Sarosh Kuruvilla, hosted the session along with the students who organized it.

Aside from protests and petitions, Cornell’s Office of University Communications created the Licensing Oversight Committee on 16 March 2010, with the goal of enforcing the school’s policies, asking that Nike’s subcontractors take accountability for their actions, and pressing Nike to pay the $2.2 million in severance to their laborers.

Other Nike campaigns across the country gave the Cornell campaign a boost. For instance, on 10 April 2010, student protests at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in support of Honduras laborers resulted in the school officially cutting ties with Nike. UWM became the first university to put pressure on the corporation's harmful labor conditions and lack of social responsibility.

Inspired by these efforts, CSAS held a call-in on 2 June 2010 and encouraged students to call University President David J. Skorton and request that Cornell cut ties with Nike. In response, several students wrote letters to University President Skorton, providing various recommendations of appropriate responses.

The student protests, as well as extensive pressure from the Licensing Oversight Committee, elicited a response from Skorton, who responded in a public statement on 28 June 2010. While allowing Cornell’s licensing contract with Nike to last until the expiration date of 31 December 2010, Skorton officially decided to allow the agreement to expire unless the necessary reparations were paid.

In order to maintain Cornell University’s standards of fairness, President Skorton wanted to provide Nike with adequate time to respond and “make significant progress.” A little under a month later, on 26 July 2010, Nike agreed to pay $1.54 million to the workers they had laid off. A spokesman for Nike, however, argued that this payment was not severance pay, but rather created a “worker relief fund.” The company also agreed to provide a year of Honduran health care coverage and vocational training.

Nike also published an official statement with Central General de Trabajadores, a Honduran labor federation, agreeing to focus on rehiring the workers who were cut, but the Workers Rights Consortium has noted that Nike’s efforts were insufficient.

Cornell University renewed their contract with Nike. However, Nike’s subsequent violations at their Hansae factory in Vietnam - including, but not limited to wage theft, corruption in management, and refusal to allow for independent monitoring by the WRC - infringed again on Cornell’s code of conduct. The Cornell Organization for Labor Action (COLA) renewed work to pressure Interim President Hunter Rawlings to cut ties with Nike.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The students at Cornell University were influenced by the efforts of students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the first university to officially cut ties with Nike.

Sources: 

Bores, Alex (2010). “CSAS Protests at Sports Events.” 27 February 2010. Web site: Cornell Students Against Sweatshops. Retrieved from

https://web.archive.org/web/20170424172213/http://cornell.usas.org/2010/02/27/csas-protests-at-sports-events/

Cheatham, Shauna (2017). “COLA Demands Cornell Cut Ties with Nike, Citing Labor Conditions.” 18 February 2017. Web site: The Cornell Daily Sun. Retrieved from

https://web.archive.org/web/20170424172256/http://cornellsun.com/2017/02/18/cola-demands-cornell-cut-ties-with-nike-citing-labor-conditions/

Greenhouse, Steven (2010). “Pressured, Nike to Help Workers in Honduras.” 26 July 2010. Web

site: The New York Times. Retrieved from

https://web.archive.org/web/20170424172336/http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/27/business/global/27nike.html

Ryan, Thomas J (2010). “Cornell Activists Protest Nike over Plant Closing.” 5 March 2010. Web

site: SGB Online. Retrieved from

https://web.archive.org/web/20170424172601/https://sgbonline.com/cornell-activists-protest-nike-over-plant-closings/

Stripling, Jack (2010). “Another One Bites the Dust.” 2 July 2010. Web site: Inside Higher Ed.

Retrieved from

https://web.archive.org/web/20170424172708/https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/07/02/nike

Sweeney, Casey (2010). “Cornell Publicly Condemns Nike’s Labor Practices.” 31 March 2010.

Web site: Cornell Students Against Sweatshops. Retrieved from

https://web.archive.org/web/20170424172914/http://cornell.usas.org/2010/03/31/cornell-publicly-condemns-nikes-labor-practices/

USAS (2010). “Nike ‘Bites the Dust’: Cornell Commits to Dropping Nike.” 6 July 2010.

Website: United Students Against Sweatshops. Retrieved from

https://web.archive.org/web/20170424172945/http://usas.org/2010/07/06/nike-bites-the-dust-cornell-commits-to-dropping-nike/

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Seimi Park, 10/02/2017