Student group stands up to nike, engages administration


Courtesy of Villanovans Against Sweatshops

Chris Deucher

Villanovans Against Sweatshops is one of more than 150 affiliated chapters of the national United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). The student group’s objective is to hold multinational companies responsible for their production of collegiate apparel in order to uphold the protection and rights of workers. VAS is pursuing this goal by placing pressure on Nike, through the University. The group met with University President, Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D. on Tuesday, Sept. 19 to address Nike in relation to the University’s values. 

One leading impetus for the student group’s action is Nike’s 2015 policy which prevented the Worker’s Right Consortium (an independent organization that monitors worker conditions) from entering apparel factories. The incident began in 2015, when workers at the Hansae Vietnam factory—which produces specific Nike university-branded apparel—conducted a series of walkouts in response to working conditions.  Nike then failed to help facilitate access for the WRC to investigate the conditions. 

When questioned, Nike took a different perspective on the issue. “These are not our factories to control,” Hannah Jones, Nike’s Chief Sustainability Officer, told the Huffington Post.  Nike Inc. forms contracts with independent contract factories around the world.  The company does not own the factories.  However, advocates for workers’ rights have pushed for stricter regulations and enforcement since Nike ultimately decides which contractors to select.

“I am very grateful to the Villanovans Against Sweatshops for their passion and bringing it to my attention,” Donohue stated during an interview.

Donohue then contacted the President of Georgetown University to discuss the relationship between the factories, Nike, WRC and their respective universities.  Furthermore, Donohue invited both sides—of Nike representatives and WRC representatives—to campus.  Though the two sides did not agree on all accounts, the meeting provided a common forum for the University to hear from the two parties and for the University to better understand the situation.

In response to Nike’s controversial decision at Hansae, multiple other universities have severed their licensing agreements with Nike, Georgetown University, Boston University, Northeastern University and Cornell University.  The pressure of concerned university students was particularly evident at Georgetown, where students occupied the president’s office. Furthermore, Rutgers University and the University of California shifted their sponsorship away from the global billion-dollar company.

On Aug. 30, Nike reacted to the aggregate of the universities’ concerns and signed a public factory agreement with the WRC.  This agreement is not legally binding, and VAS is determined to hold Nike to the University’s Code of Conduct, which it has not yet signed.

“Joining Villanovans Against Sweatshops has given me the opportunity to put my passion for justice into action,” Madeline Ochabillo, a freshman and member of the group stated. “I love this University and by fighting, alongside other passionate students, for Nike to sign Villanova’s Code of Conduct and ensuring workers’ rights, I feel like I am truly living out our core values of Caritas, Unitas and Veritas. By taking action to call for the support and action of our administration and student body, I realized that students have power to leverage entire industries and launch positive global change. As a part of our campaign, I carried a giant pen that reads ‘VU hearts Workers,’ which I really enjoyed because it raised awareness and gave me the opportunity to talk about Villanovans Against Sweatshops, the club that has helped me live out my passion.”

In addition to this goal, VAS is advocating for the formation of an official Presidential Licensing Oversight Committee, which would consist of students, faculty and administrators.  The purpose of this committee would be to ensure that the University’s licensing agreements align with its values: Verits, Unitas and Caritas.

“At any given moment, until Nike signs Villanova’s Code of Conduct, one VAS member will be carrying a giant cardboard pen with them to raise awareness of our campaign,” sophomore Rachael Huegerich stated. “This was also taken to our recent meeting with Father Peter as a tangible representation of our cause.”

Additonal reporting by Sarah McAssey.