The university has recruited third-party mediator Don Edwards, Justice and Sustainability Associates’ CEO, to assist in the negotiations between Georgetown and Nike regarding the university’s licensing contract, which expired Dec. 31.
Georgetown let the licensing contract expire following the 35-hour sit-in of President John J. DeGioia’s suite of offices staged by members of workers’ rights group the Georgetown Solidarity Committee on Dec. 8 and 9.
At the conclusion of the sit-in, the university’s administration agreed not to renew the contract with Nike unless the company commits to allowing full, independent access to the Worker Rights Consortium, Georgetown’s preferred independent factory monitoring organization. According to the agreement, Nike either has to sign Georgetown’s Code of Conduct for University Licensees or establish its own code of conduct on par with the university code’s standards.
GSC member Lily Ryan (COL ’18), who participated in the sit-in, said that the university should be congratulated for not renewing the contract, but they should not have continued the negotiations or hired Edwards given the real impact Nike’s labor practices have on people who work in its factories worldwide. Ryan also sits on the Licensing Oversight Committee, which advises the university on its licensing contracts.
“The fact that they decided they needed to bring in a mediator is very telling,” Ryan said. “To me it’s another tactic to stall the conversations, redirect GSC members, redirect LOC members who are really concerned about this and see this as an urgent problem.”
Georgetown’s Senior Director of Strategic Communications Rachel Pugh said the university explored independent mediation to help with the negotiations process when the contract expired. The university’s athletic sponsorship with Nike remains and is separate from the licensing contract.
According to Pugh, Edwards met with the LOC last week to better understand the members’ goals. She also said the university believes the mediator should help ensure that an agreement is reached that both secures timely, independent access for the WRC and upholds the university’s code of conduct.
“Georgetown believes that principled and practical engagement is the best way to ensure the safety, welfare and rights of workers around the globe,” Pugh wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Georgetown is positioned to champion human dignity and is committed to seeking solutions that provide meaningful results in the lives and communities of workers.”
Ryan said the meeting offered no new information in terms of a timeline for the negotiations with Nike going forward or stated if there is a point at which the university will abandon its efforts to reach an agreement.
“From the mediator they brought in, he was kind of like, ‘We’re going to do this until we find a consensus or determine that there is no way forward,’” Ryan said. “To me, that could be infinitely long and the university has been negotiating with Nike for over a year, so I’m not sure what they’re expecting to change.”
According to international business diplomacy professor John Kline, who is also a member of the LOC, hiring a mediator will further prolong negotiations that have already lasted longer than a year.
“The appalling failure of Nike audits to recognize widespread worker abuse at Vietnam’s Hansae factory, its attempt to dismiss worker protests as a ‘misunderstanding’ and its stonewalling of WRC factory access for a year while abuses continued should disqualify Nike as a Georgetown corporate partner rather than gain it more exceptional treatment,” Kline wrote in an email to The Hoya.
While the university continues its negotiations with Nike using the mediator, the members of GSC who continued the sit-in overnight await the results of their conduct hearing.
On the first day of the sit-in, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson signed a letter that eight students received, outlining that the students violated the university’s Code of Student Conduct in failing to comply with instructions to vacate private property.
The students met with Dean of Students Jeanne Lord on Jan. 18 and Jan. 19, where they defended their actions but did not deny them.
“There’d been no progress made, and we felt that it was our duty to do something,” Ryan said. “To us, the code of conduct is a living document and not every situation will fit nicely and neatly into every box of every charge.”
A day before the hearings began, the eight students filed a complaint to the Speech and Expression Committee. The complaint states that any disciplinary action against the students in reaction to the sit-in would be a violation of their freedom of expression.
“It was our responsibility to do this, and we think it would be unjust to impose any sanctions, particularly given the whole thing is about a code of conduct and it’s so interesting that Georgetown is so excited to enforce this code of conduct and not the labor code of conduct,” Ryan said. “That’s just a nice irony that we all are mindful of.”
Correction: This article previously stated the university was pursuing non-profit mediation; it is pursuing independent mediation.