UW activists played key role in forcing Nike to pay lost wages to Honduran workers

Student activists at UW-Madison are celebrating a victory after playing key role in winning restitution for 1200 Honduran workers who had been employed manufacturing Nike merchandise and then were fired without being paid millions in back wages. In April, after a months-long campaign by the Student-Labor Action Coalition, the UW became the first university in the U.S. to cancel its apparel contract with Nike over the issue of back pay for the fired workers. Cornell University then threatened to cancel its Nike contract as well and officials at other universities warned Nike that it would face larger student protests once the fall semester began, ultimately forcing Nike to agree to pay back wages to the Honduran workers.

The case establishes an important precedent: Powerful brands like Nike are responsible for the treatment of workers that make their branded merchandise, even though the workers may have been hired by a contractor. In the past, Nike and other brands have hidden behind the excuse that they are not responsible for the abuse of workers by contractors.

“This may be a watershed moment,” Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a group of 186 universities that monitors factories that make college-logo apparel, said. “Up until now, major apparel brands have steadfastly refused to take any direct financial responsibility for the obligations to the workers in their contractors’ factories. Now the most high-profile sports apparel firm has done just that.”