Villanovans Against Sweatshops pushes for re-evaluation of Nike



Yvonne Nguyen

The University is affiliated with the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), the world’s only independent monitoring agency, founded by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) twenty years ago. According to their website, the WRC “conduct[s] investigations of working conditions in factories around the globe. [Their] purpose is to combat sweatshops and protect the rights of workers who make apparel and other products.” 

Villanova pays an annual fee to the WRC to guarantee that Nike products are manufactured ethically and that Nike upholds our Code of Conduct, which they contractually signed then breached. We know this because, last year, the WRC released a report that detailed the violations at Hansae, Vietnam–a factory that produces apparel and licensed goods for Nike and for colleges and universities, including ours. 

Due to a special, one-time arrangement that enabled the WRC access to Hansae, the most recent WRC report was able to detail the reprehensible working conditions behind Villanova Nike apparel: “wage theft; verbal abuse of workers; pregnancy discrimination; forced overtime; illegal restrictions on workers’ use of toilets; denial of sick leave, family leave, and bereavement leave; and an array of health and safety violations, from interior factory temperatures well in excess of the legal limit of 90 degrees, to unsafe spraying of toxic solvents, to padlocked exit doors, to the chronic problem of workers collapsing unconscious at their sewing machines due to heat and overwork.” 

These workers face “intense and relentless pressure . . . to produce garments as quickly as possible.” Minimally, in the course of a given year at Hansae, Vietnam, several hundred workers collapse unconscious at their workstations, from overwork and excessive heat. There are unrealistic production targets and, as to not lose productitime, workers forego toilet breaks, drinking water, and/or lunch. Managerial policies forbid and punish many hundreds of workers from yawning on the job or bringing ice to the workplace (to alleviate the excess heat). Hansae managers, in order to fulfill factory’s production demands, deny sick leave for workers, even when workers provide proof of doctors’ orders. Would Villanova University ever subject their on-campus workers to any one of these conditions? 

How did these conditions go undetected until now? For more than a decade, Nike has been conducting labor rights audits at Hansae, Vietnam. Nike and Better Work Vietnam, which Nike relies on to assess its Vietnamese suppliers, have both conducted many audits. However, year after year, these audits fell short and failed to identify the severe labor rights violations at the factory. The WRC started an investigation in October of 2015 of Hansae, Vietnam, after two strikes at the factory, involving hundreds of workers, transpired in a country where strikes and independent unions are illegal. Nike tried to reassure universities, like Villanova University, that the strikes occurred due to a “miscommunication” which was not the case. Nike disguised the unacceptable abuses workers were suffering. According to a May 2016 WRC report, the investigation was impeded due to “Nike’s refusal to facilitate access for the WRC to the factory.” After 15 years of allowing the WRC to independently monitor factory conditions, Nike enacted a policy of refusing the WRC access to its 680 factories, starting with Hansae. Among university licensees, Nike is the only one that refuses to facilitate access to its other collegiate factories for WRC labor rights inspections, since the Hansae factory investigation to this day. Without this access, the WRC cannot completely carry out its independent monitoring work on behalf of the University. 

This WRC report means that Nike has knowingly violated our Code of Conduct and, more importantly, our Augustinian values for the past year. Catholic institution, Georgetown University, made great progress, as it did not renew its Nike contract last December since Nike unless does not allow the WRC full, independent access to all their factories. This decision was spurred by a student sit-in in their president’s office by members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee during Dec. On Monday, December 12th, 2016, Villanovans Against Sweatshops (VAS), a student-run group and affiliate of USAS, hand delivered a letter to University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A, Ph.D. expressing their concern about Villanova’s licensing contract with Nike. VAS also launched an online petition, “Villanova Encourages Father Peter M. Donohue to Commit to the Fight for Workers’ Rights,” on to represent Villanova concern about this utmost urgent issue. VAS asserts that, “we have this opportunity and responsibility to truly turn the tide, hold Nike accountable for sweatshop abuses, and be a leader in our global society. And so, we, the Villanova community, must uphold our Catholic ideals and pledge to cut all ties with Nike unless they publicly announce that the WRC will have full, independent access to all the factories that Nike uses.” 

VAS challenges the University and the community as a whole to fight against abusive work conditions, and to reevaluate the deal with Nike.