Honduran Workers Get Nike to “Just Pay it”


The CGT union in Honduras announced that it reached an agreement with Nike on behalf of the 1,800 former workers who sewed Nike college apparel at the factories Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex. One year and six months after the factories closed and failed to pay $2.5 million in severance to the workers, and after a United Students against Sweatshops (USAS) campaign severed Nike contracts with universities for the first time ever, workers and USAS forced Nike to agree to everything they had been demanding. Ex-workers demand Nike pay them what they’re owed at a rally in Honduras, June 12, 2010.

According to the joint announcement from the CGT and Nike, Nike will pay $1.5 million in a cash settlement plus a year of health insurance, and will give priority hiring and training to the 1,800 affected workers. This is a total victory for USAS student activists across the continent and for the courageous garment workers who kept the heat on Nike on the ground in Honduras.

This is a watershed moment for USAS and the anti-sweatshop movement. Ever since the 1990s, when Nike led the race to the bottom that produced shocking sweatshop headlines, the sportswear giant has refused to acknowledge responsibility for worker abuses at its subcontracted supplier factories where workers actually cut and sew Nike products.

Today that era is over. Nike’s full payment of the severance owed to workers at these contracted supplier factories sets an unmistakable precedent: Apparel corporations will be held accountable for workers’ rights in their supply chain. No more excuses.

Banner dropped from roof the Niketown in Portland, 1st May 2010

Just months ago Nike dishonestly asserted, “no collegiate licensed product was made in either Vision Tex or Hugger,” and stubbornly swore, “Nike will not be paying severance to workers that were employed by Hugger and Vision Tex.” Surprisingly, Nike has left those statements on its website here (but just in case they get embarrassed and remove that page, USAS will archive it here).

Nike only became more honest and finally came to this agreement after major economic pressure levied by students campaigning to end their universities’ lucrative contracts with Nike. Students at the University of Wisconsin made their school the first ever to terminate a contract with Nike over worker rights violations, and Cornell University students fought on into the summer months to finally get a decision to end their school’s contract with Nike as well.

Today’s victory is the first major USAS victory over Nike. In 2001, USAS fought in solidarity with the workers of Kukdong, a Nike supplier in Mexico, and the campaign won recognition for the first independent union in the maquila industry in Mexico.

The Worker Rights Consortium — the only independent organization monitoring factories producing college apparel — played a major role investigating Nike’s violations, producing several comprehensive reports for their affiliate universities. Students used the reports to illustrate how Nike had violated universities’ codes of conducts and to compel universities to take action and cut contracts with Nike.

Noticeably absent from the field in this sweatshop skirmish was the Fair Labor Association, a notoriously weak-kneed factory monitoring organization created by Nike and other brands with the Clinton administration. While the FLA’s persistent attempts to exonerate apparel companies for wrongdoing has significantly delayed and disrupted workers getting justice in past cases, their absence and refusal to hear out complaints brought by workers led to a speedy and fair resolution.

The most recent Nike victory also comes within a year of the USAS victory with Honduran unionists who work for Fruit of the Loom, the largest private employer in Honduras. USAS activists orchestrated the largest collegiate boycott of a single company in history, with over 100 universities cutting ties to Fruit’s Russell Athletic. Fruit entered into a truly historic agreement with workers’ union. With these back-to-back victories, student-labor activism is reaching new heights.

Originally published on United Students Against Sweatshops website.