Students are going barefoot to raise awareness for workers’ rights violations committed by Nike, a licensee of the university, as part of a demonstration arranged by the workers’ rights advocacy group Georgetown Solidarity Committee from Wednesday to Friday.
The university has been in contract negotiations with Nike to allow the company to use the school’s name and logo before the conrtact expires Dec. 31. GSC has advocated for Nike to sign the Code of Conduct for University Licensees, which is a requirement for all university vendors, before renewing the contract.
As part of the three-day demonstration publicized on Facebook, named “Better Barefoot Than Nike,” GSC has requested that senior university administrators, including University President John J. DeGioia and his Chief of Staff Joseph Ferrara, take off their shoes.
No university administrators have participated in the demonstration as of 2:30 a.m.
The code of conduct for licensees includes several clauses related to labor standards, including wages and benefits, health and safety and harassment and abuse. The code also stipulates that workers will cooperate with the Workers’ Rights Consortium, which helps enforce Georgetown’s and other universities’ code of conduct.
Nike has so far declined to sign the code. In a Nov. 17, 2015 memo to member universities including Georgetown, the Workers’ Rights Consortium said that Nike had rejected a request to inspect the Hansae factory, a Nike factory in Vietnam.
Nike has also been criticized for making use of child labor overseas, in addition to other workers’ rights violations.
According to Lillian Ryan (COL ’18), who is participating in the demonstration and is a former member of the nine-person university licensing oversight committee, which advises the university on issues related to licensing, there are also reports of Nike firing pregnant women and unsafe work conditions.
The LOC recommended in late March 2016 that the university require Nike to sign its code of conduct and that Nike open its factories to the WRC.
GSC member David Kilbridge (COL ’20) said the campaign aims to hold both Nike and Georgetown accountable.
“I don’t really feel good necessarily being a part of an institution, being a part of a university, that either explicitly or implicitly, through its contract with Nike, supports the mistreatment of workers this way,” Ryan said. “When it comes to this protest, I think what we’re trying to do is raise awareness, both among the students and among the staff, that we are not OK with this.”
Ryan said Nike must pledge to share Georgetown’s values before the contract is renewed.
“It’s all part of a process that we want Nike to be able to sign onto our code of conduct. They need to share our values, or we don’t want the Georgetown name on their brand,” Ryan said.
GSC member Kory Stuer (COL ’19), who is participating in the protest, said Georgetown, as a leader within the university community on workers’ rights, needs to set a good example with its policies.
“Georgetown, on issues about workers’ and labor rights, has been a leader nationally for years. If Georgetown decides to work with Nike, other schools will follow suit and act like this behavior is acceptable,” Stuer said.
According to Ryan, the code of conduct should be the minimum requirement for companies working with Georgetown.
“Nike should either sign the code of conduct or be cut as a licensee,” Ryan said. “The particular area in the code of conduct we’re focused on is the monitoring by the workers’ rights consortium. But I think it’s pretty easy. All our licensees have signed the code of conduct except for Nike.”
Stuer said going barefoot is an easy yet provocative way to draw attention to this issue.
“The act of going barefoot is so simple to ask of students,” Stuer said. “It might be a little bit uncomfortable to walk around in the cold and on the hard concrete, but to compare that to what workers have to go through in order to produce Georgetown products, it’s nothing. We’re not passing out from heat exhaustion, or being systematically fired because of a pregnancy.”
Ryan said she hopes the campaign will force the university to take concrete action in addressing the issue with Nike.
“We want the university to be tougher. It seems like the university is receptive. They hear where we’re coming from, but it hasn’t been translated into action, and it’s been a year,” Ryan said. “We’ve held multiple actions and I think both the university and Nike are stringing things out. We want to show that students really care about this enough to go out barefoot in the snow and the rain.”