By Matthew Rothschild on July 29, 2010

Score one for student pressure!

The group, United Students Against Sweatshops, just achieved a huge victory when it got mighty Nike to agree to pay $1.5 million to Honduran workers who were denied their severance pay when two Nike subcontractors suddenly closed their doors last year.

At first, Nike denied that it had an obligation to substantially assist these workers.

But then the activist group United Students Against Sweatshops started a nationwide campaign against Nike, with many protests outside the company’s Niketown stores and actions on 40 campuses around the country.

Back in the spring, student activists at the University of Wisconsin successfully pressured the school to honor its code of conduct, which prohibits dealings with companies that mistreat their workers.

To her credit, UW-Madison chancellor Biddy Martin severed the school’s licensing contract with Nike in April, and as a result, Nike wasn’t allowed to produce Badger apparel.

Student pressure also succeeded at Cornell, which announced in June that if Nike didn’t remedy the situation, it would sever ties with the company.

United Students Against Sweatshops hailed the agreement as “a watershed moment,” campaign coordinator Linda Gomaa said in a press release.

“Ever since the 1990s, when Nike led the race to the bottom that produced shocking sweatshop headlines, the sportswear giant has refused to acknowledge responsibility for worker abuses at its subcontracted supplier factories,” the group said, adding, “Today that era is over.”

Nike, in a joint statement with the Central General de Trabajadores de Honduras, which represented the workers at the subcontractors, said it would provide “a workers’ relief fund of $1.5 million.” And it would “work with its Honduran suppliers to offer vocational training programs and prioritize hiring” of the discharged workers. In the meantime, Nike also said it would cover their enrollment in the Honduran Institute of Social Security so they could “obtain health coverage for a year or until they find new employment.”

Jane Collins, a rural sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and member of the University’s Labor Licensing and Policies Committee, applauds the students for their “strategic” approach. The selective picketing, the media coverage, and the involvement of academics writing top officials at Nike all played a role, she said.

Collins also stresses the Honduran context of this victory.

“Honduras had a coup last year,” she says. “And some of the people who came to power in the coup were the apparel magnates in Honduras, and the oppression of workers has increased.” This agreement with Nike and the Honduran union provides “encouragement to the apparel workers there.”

Collins expects the University of Wisconsin-Madison to restart its Nike contract.

“Once a company does what you ask, you want to reward them,” she says.”

Jeni Le, one of the Madison activists with United Students Against Sweatshops, says this victory “shows that activism really works. It’s a coming of age for the student anti-sweatshop movement.“

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his article “Wikileaks Deserve Praise, Not Criticism, for Afghan War Leaks”

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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After the voter ID ruling, progressives try to reclaim politics for ordinary people

His bombing campaign is legally weak, and his rhetoric weaker.

By Harvey Wasserman

 

The most hopeful, diverse, photogenic, energizing and often hilarious...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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