Georgetown University students took over the office suites of university president John DeGioia Dec. 8, demanding that the university not renew its contract with Nike. Their request to cut ties with the major clothing and shoe manufacturer is due to the reported unfair labor practices in Nike’s factory in Vietnam.
On Dec. 6, the group delivered a letter to DeGioia’s chief of staff, Joseph Ferrara, and sang, “We wish you would cut the contract” to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” reported the Hoya. The student later met with Ferrara and student affairs vice president Todd Olson.
Georgetown and Nike have a contractual licensing agreement that ends Dec. 31. This contract is separate from the sponsorship deal. According to the Hoya, the university has the largest contract in the country with Nike’s Air Jordan brand. The relationship between Georgetown and Nike goes back to 1985.
Nike has been under fire from human rights activists after several reported violations in its Vietnam factory in November 2015. The Workers’ Rights Consortium, a labor rights monitoring organization for universities, said in a November 17 memo that Nike did not allow them to inspect the factory, run by Hansae, a South Korean multinational corporation.
However, the WRC issued a Dec. 6 report that outlined its Oct. 13 and 14 visit to the factory complex in Ho Chi Minh City and offers recommendations for the workplace improvements. News of the visit — which Georgetown University and the University of Washington had requested of Nike — and report took some of the confrontational power out of the student protest.
“Your time is up,” reads the Dec. 6 student letter from the group, Georgetown Solidarity Committee, to Ferrara. “Students demanded over a year ago to end our business relationship with Nike over their blatant refusal to facilitate access for the Workers Rights Consortium to its supplier factories. This alone is sufficient reason to believe Nike cannot be trusted, and that we should sever our relationship with the brand.” Also included in the letter was that the university requires all vendors to sign the Code of Conduct and undergo monitoring by the Worker’s Rights Consortium.
“That is against everything we stand for as a university and it is no longer acceptable that Georgetown is not taking a stand on this issue,” student Isabella Teare told the Hoya, a student newspaper. “What we have to say to you today is that you have until business closing tomorrow, Wednesday [Dec. 7], to cut the licensing contract with Nike.”
The protest at DeGioia’s office suites in Healy Hall began in the morning with students lying down on the floor and chanting. The group also hung a banner outside the president’s office window on Healy Hall that read: “Occupied until DeGioia cuts Nike.” DeGioia was not in his office at the time. Campus police and administrators soon arrived, but they did not ask the students to leave immediately, and the students were asked to leave several times. The eight students brought snacks and fruit with them, preparing themselves to hold out until the university ends its agreement with Nike. They ended their sit-in later on Dec. 9.
In a Dec. 7 statement, the Georgetown University Student Association said it approves of the students’ call for Nike to take responsibility: “We support the students and student athletes in their efforts to advocate for Hoya apparel we can wear with pride, and we support President DeGioia in being a leader in the university community for ensuring our university business practices truly reflect our values. Moving forward, we hope the University actively engages our student body in these conversations, especially given the recently released WRC report.”