Leading up to Georgetown’s update today on the progress of its negotiations with Nike, members of Georgetown’s Licensing and Oversight Committee, which advises the university on its licensing agreeements, called for increased transparency in the contract negotiation process.
Georgetown’s current contract with the footwear manufacturing multinational company is set to expire Dec. 31. Nike officials have yet to sign the university’s code of conduct, which is a requirement of all university vendors.
The code of conduct for Georgetown University licensees includes several clauses related to employment standards, including wages and benefits, working hours, overtime, child labor, forced labor, health and safety and harassment and abuse.
Nike has been frequently criticized for contracting with exploitative sweatshops in foreign countries. Nike is also reported to make use of child labor in its overseas factories.
On Nov. 17, 2015, the workers’ rights enforcement group Worker Rights Consortium released a memo to all of its affiliate colleges and universities, including Georgetown, after the consortium’s request to inspect the Hansae factory, a Nike factory in Vietnam, was rejected.
The WRC made a request to inspect the Hansae factory after learning about ongoing strikes by the factory’s workers in response to the factory’s labor conditions.
In Nov. 2015, Athletes and Advocates for Worker’s Rights, an advocacy group composed of athletes and workers’ rights advocates, sent a letter to University President John J. DeGioia opposing Nike’s unethical business practices.
The LOC will meet with administrators today to discuss the contract negotiations.
If Georgetown chooses to renew its contract with Nike without the company’s agreement to the code of conduct, Nike will be the only company directly affiliated with Georgetown with such an exemption.
Director of Business Policy and Planning and LOC Chair Cal Watson said the committee, which consists of administrators, faculty and students, is still discussing terms with Nike.
“Georgetown University is committed to protecting the rights of workers producing university-licensed apparel. We are in ongoing discussions with Nike now regarding the status of its license with Georgetown,” Watson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
LOC member John Kline, a professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, said many committee members have spoken out about Georgetown’s handling of contract negotiations with Nike, in particular around a lack of transparency.
LOC member Isabelle Teare (COL ’18) said she is displeased with the university’s lack of clarity regarding the current state of negotiations with Nike.
“All I know is we’re in negotiations. … I don’t really take that answer as meaning anything because, who knows what that means?” Teare said. “And also, why is it taking so long? They’re either going to sign our code of conduct and agree to do what they should’ve been doing for the past 15 years, or they’re not. It’s a pretty cut and dry issue. The only thing that ‘negotiating’ means in my mind is trying to figure out loopholes.”
Kline said members of the LOC have spoken out against Georgetown’s sustained negotiation with Nike.
“The LOC knew nothing about the Nike exception until the spring,” Kline said.
Kline said he hoped Nike would sign a new contract and accept LOC oversight of its labor practices.
“I think the ideal outcome would be if Nike simply signed a new contract with Georgetown, accepting the Georgetown code, accepting the monitoring procedure like everybody else. That’s my idea,” Kline said. “Lacking that, I don’t see how Georgetown can uphold its values and extend the contract, or negotiate another exceptional provision for Nike in a new contract. The relationship with Nike would have to end.”
Teare said she also wants Nike to adhere the code and accept the university’s monitors.
“I can’t speak for everyone on the committee, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say what we want is for Nike to sign our code of conduct and do what they should’ve been doing for years and years and years, which is adhering to that code,” Teare said. “Nike shouldn’t be given special treatment.”
Nike, Inc. Media Resources did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Kline said however, that due to the nature of the position of the LOC members, the group is relatively powerless in intervening in the negotiations.
“Our mandate is to provide advice to the president,” Kline said. “We don’t have any authority to intervene beyond advising the president. We have requested that we meet directly with President DeGioia. To date, that has not been responded to.”
Kline said student advocacy is important as the university enters the closing phase of negotiations with Nike.
“It was student involvement that got these codes in the first place, 16, 18 years ago,” he said. “And, for these codes to be meaningful, there has to be a demonstration of students remaining interested and concerned about it. This does have to do with upholding Georgetown’s values through a mechanism that the students have been responsible for and are still backing, so it’s not just the LOC—it’s the student body.”
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