Breaking news from the WSR front: Students’ anti-sweatshop campaign victory ensures real human rights protections for apparel factory workers!

Georgetown University students protest outside a university administration building during last December’s 35-hour sit in at University President John J. DeGioia’s office in support of workers’ fundamental human rights in the factories where apparel bearing the school’s logo is assembled.

USAS activists at Georgetown U. and other campuses compel Nike to sign contract opening factories to independent watchdog;

Georgetown President DeGioia: Agreement with Nike “represents… important new framework for collaboration to protect workers’ rights around the world”;

Landmark victory provides Worker Rights Consortium access to factories supplying Nike to ensure compliance with GU’s binding code of conduct, marks another great step forward for Worker-driven Social Responsibility in ongoing battle to replace failed corporate-led model…

Here are the details of this breaking news out of Georgetown University, straight from the pages of The Hoya, GU’s student newspaper:

University, Nike Reach Agreement Ensuring Factory Access


Georgetown will require Nike, Inc. to provide the Worker Rights Consortium, a labor rights group, access to supplier factories and ensure supply partners comply with new labor standards as part of a renewed contract announced this afternoon.

Georgetown allowed its contract with Nike to expire Dec. 31, 2016, following a 35-hour sit-in starting Dec. 8 at University President John J. DeGioia’s suite of offices by members of the workers’ rights group Georgetown Solidarity Committee.

As part of the agreement, the university has established a new protocol for remediation of issues identified by the Worker Rights Consortium and Nike’s suppliers will abide by the IMG College Licensing labor code standards.

The university agreed not to renew its contract with Nike unless the company agreed to allow full, independent access to the Workers Rights Consortium, an independent labor-monitoring group. The agreement also stipulated that Nike either sign the Code of Conduct for Georgetown University Licensees or establish its own code of conduct on par with the university code’s standards.

Students first raised concerns after a Nov. 17, 2015, Worker Rights Consortium memo to member universities stated Nike had denied it access to the Nike factory in Hansae, Vietnam, following the strike of thousands of employees at the factory in November 2015.

DeGioia said the agreement represents an important development for ensuring workers’ rights.  

“This new protocol reflects a process of sustained and principled engagement, allowing us to ensure that the safety, welfare, and rights of workers are protected and strengthened in meaningful ways,” DeGioia said in a university press release. “It represents the development of an important new framework for collaboration to protect workers’ rights around the world.”

This article will be updated as more information becomes available.

In a separate article on the agreement in today’s Washington Post, Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Worker Rights Consortium, explained the significance of the victory at Georgetown University in the context of the larger battle for real, enforceable human rights in corporate supply chains:

… Nova said it was important to understand the special nature of the university labor standards.

“Every brand and retailer in the garment industry has its own labor code and monitoring program, but those are voluntary programs, created by each brand and retailer itself,” Nova said. “What is special about the university codes is that they’re binding, they’re part of the contract between the university and the brand.”

Because of that, and because the Worker Rights Consortium can carry out independent inspections, the university codes have been effective at creating change for workers, Nova said.

“They’ve been a powerful instrument for improving conditions in a difficult industry,” Nova said… (read more

We will be keeping a close eye on developments in this still evolving story.  Meanwhile, its implications for the Fair Food Program and the Wendy’s Boycott — including the student-led Boot the Braids Campaign that is poised to escalate on college campuses across the country this fall, where students are demanding that their schools cut their contracts with Wendy’s until the hamburger giant agrees to participate in the leading human rights monitoring and enforcement program in US agriculture — are unmistakable.  The key elements of this huge win for apparel workers include:

  • the victory of students across the country, from Georgetown to the University of Washington, achieved through courageous direct action (including two national tours of universities by unionists from Thailand and Cambodia and a day of action last month with demonstrations in 12 countries), and the leadership of United Students Against Sweatshops, which for two decades has been at the forefront of battles to hold apparel brands accountable;
  • the decision by Georgetown University’s president, recognizing that it is time for a “new framework for collaboration to protect workers’ rights around the world,” animated by a “shared commitment to workers’ rights and a belief in the dignity and worth of every individual”;
  • the move by Nike, whose resistance to binding labor standards and independent enforcement yielded to student power and to the recognition that the market demand for real social responsibility is strong and will only grow stronger in the years to come;
  • the Worker Rights Consortium’s proven program of human rights monitoring and enforcement, unequaled in its field;

All of those elements came together in USAS’s Nike campaign to bring about this landmark victory for apparel workers overseas.

All those elements are in play in the student-led Boot the Braids Campaign, as well.  And as the experience at Georgetown and other universities makes clear, it is only a question of when, not if, they will come together to deliver the next great victory for farmworkers here in this country, too.