Though much can be said about the lax language used in the University”s contract with Nike, some good can come if pragmatic approaches are used to keep the shoe giant”s potential sweatshop abuses in check.
The problem is that the University has no idea how to accomplish any effective means of monitoring Nike. University President Lee Bollinger himself said that no one even Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, the Collegiate Licensing Company, the Fair Labor Association, the Worker Rights Consortium or any other university has established even a framework for investigating human rights violations in overseas factories. Some scenarios and plans of action must be considered:
First, when evidence of “plausible allegations” of abuse surface as may be the case in the union busting allegations surfacing in a Mexico factory that produces Nike gear legal means should be pursued.
The University, Bollinger and Athletic Director Bill Martin should have no qualms about throwing the University”s legal weight around to force Nike to make a good faith effort to correct abuses.
Because of the nature of the University”s contract, this would almost necessarily entail pursuing a break in the University”s seven-year deal with Nike.
Public Relations Warfare
If the University is truly committed to monitoring Nike and listening to its students, as Bollinger and Martin claim, student solutions should be given University resources.
An independent organization could investigate, providing evidence for further examination by journalists or human rights groups, which would create negative publicity for Nike. Hitting Nike”s bottom line with a swift blow to its public relations machine may be the best means of reining in this apparel giant.
Nike”s End of the Bargain
Another possible means of monitoring Nike is by examining the company”s efforts to consolidate its overseas workforce. Martin said the most important part of the contract is the University”s and Nike”s “shared commitment,” to provide basic human rights.
If Nike is truly committed to ending sweatshop abuses, consolidating its overseas manufacturing processes, while avoiding significant job loss, is necessary most of Nike”s factories are contracted. One factory could, for example, produce Nike apparel that accounts for only five percent of its total production.
If Nike truly has a “shared commitment” to making its factories accessible to monitoring organizations, it should take steps reign in problematic factories and consolidate its workforce. Steps in this direction are easily monitored from afar.
Bollinger and the University should make concerted efforts to form a dialogue between student groups and the administration to accomplish these ends and must do so within a month to maintain good faith.