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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 5.6.10




Standing Up to Nike?

UO paralyzed by state system rule

By Mariah Thompson

Recently the University of Wisconsin Madison made history for being the first campus to cut its contract with Nike because of labor rights violations. It took a stand against the athletic giant after Nike closed a factory in Honduras and still refused to pay $2.6 million in severance pay required by Honduran law to the laid-off workers, most of whom are still struggling to feed their families and to find new jobs.

The University of Wisconsin responded to student activists on their campus that didn’t want apparel with their university’s logo on it being produced by companies that refused to respect the law. The students organized a great campaign, rallied, protested and made their voices heard.

And guess what? Their administration listened. In a statement to UW-Madison’s Labor Licensing Policy Committe, UW chancellor Biddy Martin explained the decision to cut the contract by saying “Nike has not developed, and does not intend to develop, meaningful ways of addressing the plight of displaced workers and their families in Honduras.” The administration made a bold move and not only stood up for the law, but also what was moral.

Here at the UO, our administration shuns student demands for social justice and labor rights. Last year, students from Step Up, Oregon! and other groups on campus protested outside Johnson Hall to demand that the UO join more than 100 other universities across the country by cutting its contract with Russell Athletic over violations of international labor law and union busting in Honduras. President Frohnmayer refused, saying that a ruling by the Oregon University System (OUS) prevented UO from cutting the contract.

The ruling in question was written in February 2001 and states that the UO “shall not adopt limits on eligibility to enter business agreements or otherwise conduct business unless based upon the ability to perform, evidence of illegal activities or other criteria required or allowed by statute or Board rule.” It was passed quietly nearly 10 years ago after UO labor rights activists made huge gains towards ensuring that our Duck apparel would not be produced in sweatshops. This scared Phil Knight, who threatened to pull large donations to the university as a response. Shortly thereafter, the ruling emerged without explanation. It prevents the university from writing a code of conduct for the companies that produce apparel bearing the “O,” and therefore prevents them from being held accountable for any abuse of workers that takes place.

Just like last year, a great fight is being fought for workers’ rights. Students around the country are standing up to their administrations and demanding that their university not support sweatshop conditions and labor law violators. Once again, the UO is paralyzed by the OUS rule that protects Nike, our bread and butter, from ever being put on trail. The OUS needs to stop protecting perpetrators of labor rights abuses just because it is afraid of offending our sponsors. The OUS ruling must go, so that the UO can finally join the ranks of the other campuses across the nation that stand up for worker’s rights, justice and the law.

Mariah Thompson is a student activist and co-director at University of Oregon Survival Center. This issue and others will be discussed at the Beyond Patriarchy Convergence May 14-16 at the UO. Keynote speakers are Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and Tobi Hill-Meyer. See http://wkly.ws/jb