Friday, April 09, 2010

University of Wisconsin Dumps Nike

It's been a long time since we've heard about the anti-sweatshop movement. Student groups of the late 90s were all over labor conditions. Sadly, most student-activists today don't think too much about working-class issues. Their commitment to the environment should be lauded, but they don't seem to have much consciousness about the people making the products they buy. Another way of putting this is that I like having organic peanut butter in the school cafeteria too, but it doesn't mean much if the people on the peanut farms live in shacks.

However, there are exceptions. I was surprised to read today that the University of Wisconsin has terminated its contract with Nike because Honduran factories that make Nike shoes refuse to pay workers severance pay after the factories closed. That's a real victory that will cost Nike millions.

Of course, Wisconsin now has to find a shoe company with better factories. I'm not sure they exist. However, the only thing that's going to make companies treat workers in better (except for government regulations, which ain't going to happen in Honduras) is consumer pressure. And a double kudos to the students who remain committed to improving the lives of working-class people.

Nike continues to claim blamelessness, saying that they subcontract their shoes and clothing out and thus have no responsibility for working conditions. This is a morally baseless argument. Obviously, the subcontractors would do more for their workers if Nike forced them to. Nike's major reason for not directly employing the manufactures is to avoid responsibility for them and to create ever greater profits on the backs of poorly paid, overworked, and exploited workers in the developing world.