Last Friday, April 5, the Office of University Communications charged a new Licensing Oversight Committee, comprised of administrators, staff, faculty, and students, to take charge of the enforcement of the University’s code of conduct with regards to apparel purchases, and comes in response to Cornell Students Against Sweatshop’s campaign to force Nike to pay over $2.1 million in severance pay to Honduran workers.
The committee will investigate how Cornell can address this and future alleged violations of its purchasing agreements. In 2006, Cornell endorsed the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP). The DSP is a university procurement policy adopted by universities throughout the US, Canada, and the UK, that sets standards for labor practices for all licensees of university logos. The DSP factory conditions are audited by the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent monitoring agency free from company interference.
The members of the committee will be Mike Powers, Director of Operations in the office of University Communications, students Alex Bores ’13, Bill Peterson ’10, Professor Sarosh Kuruvilla and Lance Compa from the ILR school, Gary Swisher, the Assistant Director of Merchandise at the Cornell Store, Catherine Holmes from the Dean of Students Office, Kyle Kubick, Business Manager in the office of University Communications, and Larry Quant, the Director of Financial Operations for Athletic and Physical Education. The committee is scheduled to hold its first meeting within the coming weeks.
The agenda for the first meeting will include both how to deal with the current situation at Nike, but also how to reinstate Russell Athletics. Russell had previously supplied merchandise to the Cornell store, but that contract was terminated after it was judged the company had violated the University’s code of conduct by shutting down a unionized factory in Honduras as soon as the workers there exercised their right to bargain collectively. After a long campaign that in large part built off of Cornell Students Against Sweatshops success in persuading the Cornell Store to drop Russell, the company reopened the factory and recognized the union. The New York Times called the biggest ever victory for student anti-sweatshop activists, and the University is now investigating how to start a new contract with the company.
“Russell was a great example of the power consumers can have over corporate practices,” said Bill Peterson, 10, a member of CSAS and the committee. “Instead of creating a ‘race-to-the-bottom’ where companies search for the worst conditions and lowest wages, consumers can help workers around the world create a ‘race-to-the-top.’ By shunning the worst offenders and rewarding those companies that respect the rights and wishes of their workers, we can help workers around the world improve their own conditions.”
Moving from the momentum of the victory over Russell, CSAS and the national United Students Against Sweatshops, has turned their attention to Nike. Nike has license to produce huge portions of Cornell’s athletic gear, as well as apparel for the Cornell store. In January 2009, Nike subcontractor Haddad Group closed two factories (Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex) that predominately produced goods for Nike, including university apparel. Claiming economic reasons, Nike stopped sourcing from the unionized factories. Both Nike and Haddad refused to pay the workers $2.5 million of legally mandated severance compensation. After liquidation of the factories, the workers are still owed approximately $2.1 million.
CSAS argues that this is a violation of the DSP and so Cornell’s commitment.
“Cornell has a responsibility to adhere the principles outlined in the DSP” said Alex Bores, ’12, president of CSAS and a member of the committee. “This kind of thing is much more common than we’d like to think, and this Committee will be an important way of ensuring the enforcement of the ethical standards we hold as a community.”
To help raise awareness about this issue among the Cornell community, CSAS hosted a ‘Teach-In’ Wednesday, March 10th from 5-6:00pm. Speaking at the teach in were students currently involved in the movement, as well as professors Compa and Kubick, who serve on the committee and have studied the anti-sweatshop movement.
Dozens of students flooded into Ives 217 to learn about how their purchases were impacting workers around the world, and what the Cornell community can do about it.
“This is about student power,” Bores said. “We, as consumers, have the power to help workers around the world who are demanding a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities. We can help them lift themselves out of poverty. For the Cornell Community, this is a moral imperative.”