Less than two weeks after the announcement of its new seven-year, $25 million Nike contract, the University has sent a letter to Nike expressing concerns about labor abuses in a factory listed as having produced Michigan apparel
Located in Altlixco de Puebla, Mexico, the Kukdong apparel factory is a Korean-owned operation that employs about 800 workers who primary produces collegiate sweatshirts.
Acting on worker complaints, the Worker Rights Consortium, a student-developed sweatshop monitoring organization, sent a fact-finding delegation to investigate claims of worker abuse and threats to worker”s rights of free association.
The WRC”s preliminary report also detailed complaints of workers being fed rotten food, causing many to be sick workers being struck with hammers and screwdrivers by supervisors and children aged 13 to 15 working more than 10 hours a day.
From Jan. 9-11, laborers staged a work stoppage to protest the firing of five factory supervisors who were fired for attempting to organize a new union for the workers.
During the fact-finding trip held from Jan. 20-22, the consortium found that the majority of workers were still not back at work, said WRC Executive Director Scott Nova.
The evidence was “extraordinarily clear” that the workers are not being allowed to return to work, Nova said.
Marikah Mancini, a graduate student at Purdue and member of the WRC”s governing board, was also a member of the fact finding delegation.
Mancini said one of the most powerful experiences for her was hearing complaints from workers who were initially selected to represent the company”s union, Confederacion Revolucionario de Obreros y Campesinos.
“Slowly their desire to tell the truth came out,” Mancini said.
In a letter to Nike Vice President of Corporate Responsibility Dusty Kidd, University of Michigan General Counsel Marvin Krislov wrote that the reports that workers have not been allowed to return to work “presents a critical problem.”
“If this is not rectified rapidly, this loss of employment violates legal structures and undermines principles of freedom of association that are central to codes of conduct,” Krislov wrote.
The letter concludes that “we urge you, as our long-standing partners, to do everything possible to bring about an immediate resolution so that these workers can return to work.”
Krislov added that University”s letter is both appropriate and as timely as possible. He also said the University has been in close contact with Nike regarding the Kukdong situation.
“Nike has been very responsive to us” he said.
Members of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality applauded the University”s initiative but also warned that the University must continue to follow up its statement.
“The true value of this statement by the University will be evident by its subsequent actions,” said SOLE member David Deeg.
Fellow SOLE member Scott Trudeau added that “it”s only the first step in rectifying the situation but we”re glad the University has sent a clear message to Nike to clean up its gross sweatshop abuses.”
The University”s other monitoring organization, the White House-sponsored Fair Labor Association, also released a statement urging a resolution to the situation at Kukdong.
Nova said he was greatly encouraged by his organization”s first field investigation.
More importantly, he added, “this case is a classic illustration that there is a need for vigorous enforcement of collegiate codes of conduct.”