Honduras: sweatshop campaign presses Nike

As of July 15 a campaign started by students at various North American campuses in the fall of 2009 around the labor practices of Oregon-based Nike, Inc in Honduras seemed to be on its way to winning several new victories. In an internal June 28 letter, Cornell University president David Skorton announced that the institution would let its sports apparel licensing agreement with the giant sportswear firm lapse on Dec. 31 “unless significant progress is made” in resolving severance pay issues from the January 2009 closing of two Honduran plants, Vision Tex and Hugger de Honduras. Two weeks later, on July 14, Pennsylvania State University spokesperson Geoff Rushton said in an email that the university was urging Nike “to play a positive role in assisting” the laid-off workers and was “continuing to monitor the issue.”

Nike is also facing pressure at the University of Washington, where the advisory committee for trademarks and licensing has recommended letting the Nike agreement lapse when it expires in December. A student group, the Student Labor Action Project, is calling for faster action.

The campaign’s first victory came on Apr. 9, when the University of Wisconsin in Madison announced it was cancelling its Nike contract 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. According to the internet news site Inside Higher Ed, “past campaigns…have shown that once a few universities take a stand, others often follow.” (Inside Higher Ed, July 2; State College.com, July 15; Seattle PI blog, July 16)

Plant closings became a major labor issue in Honduras in 2009 because of the world economic crisis and a deterioration in labor rights after a June 28 military coup ousted then-president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, who had good relations with the country’s labor movement.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 18.

See our last posts on Honduras and Central America.