Cornell Commits to Dropping Nike

Just Pay It BrokenYesterday, Cornell’s President, David Skorton, notified the University’s Licensing Oversight Committee of his decision to let Cornell’s contract with NIKE, Inc. expire at the end of this coming December, unless the sports-giant corrects labor violations at two of its former supplier factories in Honduras. Roughly 1,800 former workers at these two Nike plants are owed over $2.2 million in unpaid severance. President Skorton told the committee members that he “expect[s] to see Nike significantly accelerate its efforts to resolve” the labor dispute in Honduras, and would “allow our licensing agreement to expire at the end of the year if Nike does not…make satisfactory progress” in bringing an end to these worker rights violations.

Cornell’s action comes in the wake of protests organized by local chapters of United Students Against Sweatshops, a national labor rights watchdog group. The campaign, called “Just Pay It!,” succeeded in pressuring the University of Wisconsin to cut its contract with Nike in March, and is expanding to other colleges asking them to follow suit. The University of Washington and University of California system are currently considering whether to drop Nike.

Members of Cornell Students Against Sweatshops and the Cornell Organization for Labor Action waged a 6-month campaign to pressure the University to drop Nike. The students organized educational teach-ins; got endorsements of over 30 Cornell organizations, including the Student Athletes Council; passed faculty and student government resolutions calling for a contract cut with Nike; brought worker representatives from the two affected factories in Honduras to speak on campus; held morning “Working Out for Workers Rights” exercise sessions that led to the student newspaper endorsing their Nike campaign; and held rallies and protests demanding that the University Administration cut Cornell’s contract.

“We think President Skorton’s decision to let Cornell’s Nike contract expire in December sends a strong message to Nike: clean up your act, or other schools will follow Cornell and cut contracts,” said Casey Sweeney ’13, who is the President of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action, and a Regional Organizer with United Students Against Sweatshops. Sweeney added that so far, “President Skorton has not mentioned what will happen with Cornell’s 5-year exclusive athletics contract with Nike,” which is currently being considered for renewal. Casey Sweeney says that “the entire communities of Cornell and Ithaca got behind our campaign to hold Nike accountable,” and students “want to see President Skorton clarify that Cornell’s athletics contract won’t be considered for renewal until December.”

Additionally, the students plan on holding the University to its promises next fall semester. “Cornell needs to prepare itself for the serious possibility of Nike failing to pay its workers the money they’re owed,” said Alex Bores ’13, who’s the President of Cornell Students Against Sweatshops. “One way President Skorton can prepare for losing Nike’s sponsorship of Cornell athletics, is by actively searching for other potential contractors right now,” says Bores, who went on to say that “next year, our campaign will most likely focus on talking to students and athletes about what sports company they’d prefer to replace Nike as Cornell’s main athletic sponsor.” President Skorton’s decision makes Cornell the first school whose athletics program is sponsored by Nike, to publicly commit to dropping its business with the company over labor rights violations.

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