The Human Thread

December 12, 2016

Author: editor

Category: Act

Georgetown Students Occupy President’s Office

(Photo from Facebook: Georgetown Solidarity Committee)

(Photo from Facebook: Georgetown Solidarity Committee)

This morning, students from Georgetown University occupied the office of university president, John J. DeGioia. According to the students’ press release (georgetown-usas-press-release):

twenty student activists at Georgetown University began an occupation of University President John J. DeGioia’s office demanding that the school’s administration refuse to renew their licensing contract with Nike. The students, led by members of worker solidarity organization Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC), a United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) affiliate, are vowing to stay in the President’s office until he takes action.

Recipient of Nike’s largest Air Jordan contract, Georgetown was notified in October 2015 of abuses of worker’s rights at the Hansae factory in Vietnam, a likely site for the production of Georgetown collegiate apparel. The violations, confirmed two days ago in a report by the Workers Rights Consortium, include work in extreme heat (factory temperatures above 90 degrees), inducing severe fainting. Additional abuses profiled in the report include “the systematic firing of pregnant workers, wage theft, and other unsafe working conditions.”Occupying the president’s office is a significant action that comes on the heels of more than a year of dialogue with the university administration. This is not the first attempt by the students to convince the university to change their practice:

  • An April 2016 article from The Hoya outlines the history to that point, referencing a letter from the President of Georgetown to Nike, not available to the public, that threatens Nike with a non-renewal of the contract if the code of conduct for licensees remains unsigned.
  • Professor John Kline published a letter to the editor last month asking why Nike was the only exception to the university’s code of conduct for licensees. Professor Kline, an expert in garment factories, has studied Alta Gracia, the world’s only living wage, unionized garment factory since 2009.
  • Here is the Worker Rights Consortium study of the Hansae factory that was released Tuesday. The first full paragraph on page two is critical as it notes how Nike has not facilitated access to factories to independently investigate claims from workers since October of 2015.

The timing of action from these students is critical as Georgetown’s contract expires on December 31. Even as the Vatican commits to “slave-proof” its supply chains, we do not want Georgetown to roll back its commitment to the rights of workers. Without going into all the specifics, the issue amounts to this: if Georgetown signs the agreement, without a commitment from Nike to the licensee code of conduct, then other Catholic universities with Nike licensing agreements (or with other companies) may follow suit in a way that would do grave harm to the rights of workers and roll back progress made in 2000 by an earlier generation of college students and university administrators.

Georgetown, which has acknowledged and repented its historical involvement in the slave trade, should not get renewed in any form of complicity in what Pope Francis has called “slave labor.” We admire the witness of solidarity of these university students, who, risking arrest, seek to stand with the workers who make the apparel that bears the name of their university. We see them living the highest ideals of a Jesuit education “women and men for others.” We, too, want their university put its words (the code of conduct for licensees) into action. While essential for any university, this is vital for a Catholic university. Georgetown is a leader in Catholic higher education, and we hope it will witness to its purported high standards. When students and student athletes wear Georgetown sportswear, we agree that they should be clothed in compassion, rather than exploitation.