Students have denounced the University”s $28 million, exclusive supply and licensing contract with Nike and more crucially Nike”s violation of the contract”s labor standards in Atlixco de Puebla, Mexico the same day Nike signed it.

800 workers who make Michigan-Nike sweatshirts went on strike Jan. 9 to protest Nike”s contractor”s refusal to recognize the workers” independent union. Two days later riot police attacked innocent workers, including pregnant women, hospitalized 15 people and detained two union leaders. When the workers tried to return days later, the company locked out 300 workers who participated in the strike and another 300 have yet to return due to fear.

It was an insult to these workers and the University community when University President Lee Bollinger announced on Jan. 16 that the athletic department had entered a seven-year agreement with Nike. Bollinger sold out the University”s integrity and workers” rights by only accepting in the contract a weak code of labor standards that inadequately protects workers making Michigan goods.

The paramount issue today is the violation of workers” rights in Mexico. The University has the moral obligation and contractual right to protect these workers. A week ago the Worker Rights Consortium, a monitoring group to which the University belongs, sent a delegation of university administrators, students and labor experts to investigate the situation in Mexico.

The WRC interviewed dozens of people, including the factory”s management, to produce a credible, unbiased account. What the WRC reported was far worse than anything we had thought company management admitted to hitting workers with hammers and screwdrivers, employing 13 year-old girls, serving rancid meat to the workers, suppressing the strike and going back on an agreement to allow the workers to return.

Without immediate action to allow the workers to return to their jobs and educate the community, the WRC report concluded, irreparable harm will be done to the workers and labor rights in Puebla. The University”s advisory committee backed this fundamental assertion on Friday.

For two weeks, college and university students nationwide have demanded that their presidents tell Nike to ensure all the violations are rectified immediately. Purdue”s President said before the delegation occurred that any verified violations would represent a breech of their code of conduct. In addition, the Michigan Student Assembly recently voted 26-3 to encourage Bollinger to break the Nike contract if Nike cannot clean up violations within 30 days, as stipulated in its contract. Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality and members of groups such as the Graduate Employees Organization and the Black Student Union stormed into President Bollinger”s office on Jan. 17 demanding that Bollinger write a formal letter to Nike declaring the breech of contract and asking for a peaceful resolution.

It pleases members of SOLE and all people on campus who care about human rights that yesterday the University”s General Counsel Marvin Krislov sent a letter to Nike articulating the advisory committee”s desire to have all workers reinstated and the need for community outreach to educate workers of their rights. While SOLE would like to see more specificity in a recommendation this week based on the WRC”s advisement, this letter is a good first step by Bollinger. The true value of the letter will be realized once the workers all return to the factories and are allowed to have a free and fair union election.

Despite doing the right thing yesterday, we cannot overlook Bollinger”s gross defiance of public accountability, misleading statements to the press and rejection of the advisory committees” recommendations. In March 1999, amidst a student sit-in Bollinger told The New York Times he had adopted a strong code of conduct then for two years he reneged on that statement.

For two years, two committees wrote a strong “UM code” and revised it. But Bollinger never intended on writing the committee”s strong code into contracts and instead chose to negotiate a weaker “Collegiate Licensing Company” code in the Nike contract, preemptively rejecting an advisory committee”s recommendation on Jan. 10 to put the strong code into all future contracts.

Bollinger must finally implement the committee”s wish to put the strong code in all 580 future licensing contracts that remain without labor standards. Though Bollinger has met SOLE”s basic request to support the return of the workers, he must continue to hold Nike to the labor standards it agreed to. He must show us that the weak teeth he wrote into the contract can at least somewhat protect workers” rights.

Peter Romer-Friedman

RC senior Jackie Bray LSA first-year student The writers are both members of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality.

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