Student activists with United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) recently claimed victory over sports apparel giant Nike. After the company shut down two subcontractor plants in Honduras in 2009, it tried to duck out of paying 1,800 workers several million dollars in severance pay. U.S.-based students started a nationwide boycott campaign, urging their universities to sever contractual ties to the sporting giant. On the heels of Nike's Monday announcement that it would finally pay the workers, Micah Uetricht at In These Times wonders if the strategy will spread to other labor work:
As they had done against Russell, activists crisscrossed the country with workers from the closed plants on a speaking tour at dozens of universities with contracts with the company, meeting with several university administrations. It wasn't long before the prospect of terminating Nike contracts was raised, and the company began to change its position.
It took 89 contract losses before Russell caved. This time, one contract termination at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the threat of another at Cornell were enough to convince Nike to accede to worker/student demands. The company agreed to pay $1.54 million to their former employees, provide healthcare and vocational training for a limited time, and give priority rehiring to the laid-off workers.
The win against Nike marks the second major victory in one year for USAS and garment workers. The students seem to have developed a winning strategy against massive multinationals they accuse of labor abuse: convincing individual universities to cut contracts with the companies while using traditional and new media to publicly shame the company into straightening up their act.