In an effort to improve working conditions at a factory that produces Georgetown apparel, the university is urging manufacturers to follow the recommendations outlined in a recent Workers’ Rights Consortium report.

This effort marks the first time the WRC, the labor-monitoring organization Georgetown joined after it left the Fair Labor Association last spring, has been able to use its monitoring groups to protect workers at factories that produce university-licensed merchandise.

The WRC’s report, issued two weeks ago, followed an investigation of the Kukdong Nike/Reebok factory in Puebla, Mexico, after 800 workers staged a strike at the factory in early January.

The workers, according to the report, went on strike to express dissatisfaction with their union (the Confederacion Revolucionario de Obreros y Campesinos). The report says the workers were forced to sign statements of loyalty to the CROC before being allowed to return to work and that they were beaten and otherwise discriminated against upon returning.

In addition to full reinstatement of the workers to their positions, the WRC is asking universities to support a program to go into the workers’ communities, advise them of their rights and assist them in re-entering the workplace. The organization also asks that Kukdong’s senior managers be held responsible for taking “proactive measures to ensure that those workers [who went on strike] are not subject to threats, intimidation, penalties or reprisals.”

In a letter to the CEO of the Nike Corporation dated Feb. 7, University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., supported the efforts outlined in the WRC’s report. He said that Georgetown “cannot continue to do business with companies . that violate workers’ rights, mistreat employees or ignore their rights to a safe and sanitary working environment,” and that violations of any individual worker’s rights “will not be taken lightly.”

Nike Director of Global Issues Vada Manager said the WRC is not an “accredited, auditory body” and that the committee “parachuted” onto the factory site to conduct their investigation, and did not have a context for their report.

Nike, which reports to the FLA instead of the WRC, sent Verite, an independent labor-and-trade monitoring organization, to the worksite last week. Verite issued a report on Feb. 7 which said that workers are free to form their own union, but, to return to work, must first recognize CROC as their union. According to the report, workers, once re-employed, “have the right to seek an election and a new representative union.”

Nate McCray (SFS ’03), president of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, said that the workers were forced into signing loyalty agreements that didn’t meet their representation needs because they needed money.

“They were exchanging representation so they could survive and feed their families,” he said.

Manager said the Verite auditor would remain at the worksite and submit daily reports to the FLA, and that Nike was utilizing local government resources to make sure workers go back to work.

“I don’t think what [the WRC is] looking for is far off from what we’ve already done,” Manager said.

Despite contradictory reports from the WRC which stated that only 250 workers had returned to work since the strike, Manager said that about 485 workers are currently reinstated, citing the fact that the factory could not run on 200 workers.

McCray said the GSC is concerned about Nike’s plan to continue monitoring.

“It really needs to happen soon,” he said. “The longer we wait, the less likely [the workers] are to be reinstated. With luck, Nike will send someone this week. If they continue not to, it could get very bad.”

McCray also said that this conflict represents a critical moment for Nike.

“There also looms in the distance whether Nike will keep its commitment or pack up and leave,” McCray said. “If that happened, I think you’d see a lot of unhappy students and universities,” he said.

Two years ago, GSC staged an 89-hour sit-in in O’Donovan’s office, demanding rights for the workers that produced officially licensed university apparel. Subsequent to the sit-in, the university formed the Licensing Implementation Committee to monitor Georgetown’s apparel production. Last year, Georgetown left the FLA in favor of WRC, citing more accountability for factories under the WRC.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.