On August 30, 2017, Georgetown University and Nike announced a new contract designed to address labor conditions in Nike’s overseas factories. These negotiations were designed to mediate the concerns of students across the country who have put pressure on their universities to cut ties with Nike over what they consider to be unfair labor standards.
Last December, students staged a sit-in protest in the office of President John DeGioia, pushing for Georgetown to end its licensing agreement with Nike, which expired on December 31. Among other issues, these students protested because Nike was not allowing the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) into its factories to access working conditions and labor practices. In one instance where the WRC gained access to a factory in Vietnam, it was found that workers were not allowed bathroom breaks and were even padlocked in the factory, among other violations.
The sit-in protests prompted the University to let the retail agreement expire, stopping all orders for Nike-produced Georgetown apparel. However, instead of severing all ties with the clothing conglomerate, the University pushed for a new deal that ensures that Nike’s labor standards and working conditions improve and meet the newly installed standards.
Under the new agreement, Nike is required to give the WRC access to all collegiate licensing factories when a violation is identified and reported. It also puts in to place third-party labor standards outlined by IMG College Licensing, which assists universities manage their relationships with major retailers. While Nike has argued that it is not practical to adhere to different codes of conduct put in place by its licensees in over 500 factories, this new model of establishing industry standards represents a new path forward in which all parties can work together as one and influence the practices of major suppliers.
Eric Sprunk, Nike’s Chief Operating Officer, released a statement saying, in part, “This new agreement reflects our unwavering commitment to listening, engaging and evolving our joint approaches to continuously raise the bar on affecting positive change for workers in apparel and footwear supply chains.” Critics of this agreement argue that higher standards and pay within Nike factories will increase Nike prices while also reducing overseas production job opportunities.
This breakthrough highlights the growing influence that collegiate sports and student protests have on external parties conducting business with universities across the United States.