Members from the University of Michigan student organization United Students Against Sweatshops delivered a letter to the Alexander G. Ruthven Building on Nov. 1 demanding that U-M administration publicly condemn Nike. USAS’ letter calls on the University to take action following Nike’s alleged wage theft at the Hong Seng knitting factory in Bangkok. According to USAS, Nike stole $800,000 from workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Nike has supplied the University with uniforms and apparel since 2016 and the partnership is scheduled to continue until 2027.
USAS first took action following a 2021 investigation into Nike by the Workers Rights Consortium, an independent labor rights monitoring organization. The organization held teach-ins for students and informational meetings about the Hong Send case before delivering the letter to the University.
On Oct. 20, the President’s Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights recommended in a meeting that Nike uphold its contract and pay its workers per the U-M supplier code of conduct. Though the University expected communications from Nike by Nov. 1 on their contract compliance, Nike has not paid its workers at Hong Seng before the Nov. 1 deadline. University President Santa Ono addressed USAS in a letter on Oct. 20, shortly after the PACLSHR recommendation was made. Ono wrote that he asked his Office of General Counsel to urge Nike to comply with the PACLSHR committee’s recommendations.
“The University of Michigan continues to be dedicated to the continued improvement of labor standards and human rights in the global supply chain,” Ono wrote. “Although it can take time to make progress on these sorts of complicated issues, I am committed to continuing our engagement with Nike to try and move towards a more just resolution.”
USAS’ letter to U-M administration, which was written 12 days after Ono’s letter, demands that the University deliver a public statement to the U-M community, peer institutions and Nike expressing support of garment workers’s rights. The letter, which is signed by about 150 U-M students and 7 student organizations, also demands that the University begin a process of contract termination with Nike and advocate for ethical business practices.
“U-M must not tolerate Nike’s conscious violations of its contract and supplier code of conduct,” the letter read. “As such, U-M must respond immediately in order to uphold its institutional integrity and commitment to labor and human rights … the University of Michigan is the leading institution working towards more ethical, sustainable, and accountable supply chains.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Public Policy senior Ruthy Lynch, a USAS member, said the letter’s demands are to ensure Nike feels pressured to take tangible action.
“It’s been communicated to Nike that U-M wants them to pay their workers, but this is really a PR thing,” Lynch said. “Nike is not going to pay these workers until like, it costs more to their reputation than it does to pay up the $800,000.”
In an interview with The Daily, LSA junior Mark Tallents, co-founder of the U-M chapter of USAS, said though they believe the University has not done enough to support Nike’s garment workers, the administration’s Oct. 20 letter did acknowledge the wage theft as a violation of their contract.
“We’re actually the first university to get our administration to recognize that this is a violation of our contracts — at every other university across the U.S. that has been organizing on this issue,” Tallents said. “We’re the first university to say … that Nike should pay the workers, which is huge.”
Lynch said USAS will continue to demand action against Nike because the organization believes that Nike’s actions are wrong.
“We may be on the other side of the world, but students care about workers,” Lynch said. “Students don’t want to wear clothes that were made by workers who didn’t get paid. … So I think we just want to keep showing up, keep showing that we care and keep pushing them to really make those more concrete steps to really put some pressure on that.”