Honduras: anti-sweatshop campaign hits Nike

On April 9 Biddy Martin, the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin (UW) in Madison, announced that the institution was cancelling its sports apparel contract with Oregon-based Nike, Inc because of the company’s failure to provide legally mandated back pay and severance packages worth some $2.1 million to more than 1,600 workers for two Nike contractors in Honduras. This was the first victory in a campaign started by students at various North American campuses last fall around the closing of two plants, Vision Tex and Hugger de Honduras, in January 2009. UW made some $49,000 in 2008 and 2009 for allowing Nike to use the university logo on its clothing and products.

Chancellor Martin’s decision followed organizing on the campus by the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC) and a rally of more than 100 students on April 8, with the support of two campus unions, AFSCME Local 171 and the Teaching Assistant Association. A week later, on April 17, two of the Nike subcontractors’ former employees, Gina Cano and Lowlee Urquia, visited the campus as part of a North American tour. The workers said the management of the two maquiladoras—tax-exempt assembly plants producing mainly for export—didn’t compensate them for overtime, imposed unreasonable quotas, and failed to pay required contributions to the national health benefit program. (Socialist Worker, April 14; In These Times, April 21)

Meanwhile, the California-based Dole Food Company, Inc—formerly Standard Fruit Company—has announced plans to close 13 estates in Yoro department in northern Honduras, leaving about 2,300 agricultural workers without jobs. The company said the estates are unprofitable and indicated that it would pay the workers their benefits.

The employees are represented by the Unified Union of Standard Fruit Company Workers (Sutrasfco), which is affiliated with the Confederation of Honduran Workers (CTH), one of the country’s three main labor federations. Hilario Espinoza, the CTH’s general secretary, has said that the company was really trying to destroy Sutrasfco by replacing the unionized workers with a non-union workforce. “We would need to carry out a strike if it’s necessary,” he added, “because it’s not possible that they should be able to fire workers to bring in other people.” (El Tiempo, San Pedro Sula, April 10; La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa, April 23, April 24).

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 25.

See our last post on Honduras.