A student sit-in at Georgetown University in protest of the school’s licensing agreement with Nike continued for a second day Friday, with the students vowing not to leave the president’s office until they receive a written commitment that the school will require Nike to allow independent monitoring of working conditions in its overseas factories.
Seventeen Georgetown undergraduates took over the offices of university president John DeGioia on Thursday morning to demand that the school cut its licensing agreement with Nike because of what they say are unfair labor practices at one of the company’s factories in Vietnam. The university’s licensing agreement with Nike — which is separate from its sponsorship deal with the company — is set to end Dec. 31.
On Friday evening, seven students remained in the president’s offices. The students, who call themselves the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, said they are staging the sit-in to protest working conditions at Nike factories where Georgetown University apparel is manufactured.
“We’re trying to tell Nike in the clearest terms that Georgetown stands up for our values,” said junior Lily Ryan, 20, a government major from New Orleans. “We’re a Jesuit university and upholding the dignity of work is central to our values.”
The students point to a recent report by the Workers Rights Consortium, an independent international labor monitoring group, that alleges the Vietnam factory Nike operates is abusive to workers.
“We’ve been working on this issue for 14 months with Nike,” Ryan said. “But Nike is not taking responsibility for labor abuses that include temperatures in the factory that average above 90 degrees, workers being padlocked into the factory, workers not being allowed to use the bathroom and pregnant women being fired.”
In a statement Thursday night, Georgetown University spokeswoman Rachel Pugh said the school is committed to protecting the rights of workers and described the WRC report about the Hansae factory as “deeply troubling, and underlines the importance of the WRC and independent monitoring.”
“Nike has committed to extensive remediation with the WRC, Fair Labor Association (FLA) and Hansae management and they have initiated sanctions against the factory,” the university statement continued. “We believe the best way to address the concerns in the reports and to improve the conditions of workers is by working together with Nike. We are working to reach agreement with Nike on terms that ensure timely, independent factory monitoring by the WRC to address complaints in the future as a condition of our licensing contract moving forward.”
Sabrina Oei, a Nike spokeswoman, said in a statement Thursday night that the company has been “deeply committed to workers and improving conditions in contract factories for more than 20 years, and that commitment remains as strong today as ever.” The statement said Nike is aware of concerns at the Hansae factory and has been working to address them, and that the company is hopeful they’ll reach agreement with Georgetown on the licensing contract.
“Hansae management, with Nike and FLA’s oversight, has developed a comprehensive remediation plan that addresses all of the issues identified in the joint investigation,” Oei said in the statement. “Many corrective actions have already been implemented and we are closely monitoring Hansae’s progress against its remediation plan. ... Our investment in transparency and commitment to protect worker’s rights is unwavering. We are committed to going far beyond simply uncovering the issues, and to working to elevate standards across not just our supply chain but the industry as a whole. Our Code of Conduct is the strongest in the industry.”
The protest at DeGioia’s office in Healy Hall began at 10 a.m. Thursday, with the students lying down on the floor and chanting. They hung a banner outside the office window that read: “Occupied until DeGioia cuts Nike.” The president was not in his office at the time, a university official confirmed.
Campus police and administrators soon arrived, Ryan said, but they did not ask the students to leave at that time. Subsequently the students were asked to leave several times. Ryan said Friday that the students were running out of food and had gotten little sleep but that they were prepared to hold out until the university ends its agreement with Nike.
This story has been updated.