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University's new contract with Nike that allows inspections of overseas factories is first of its kind

Katherine Long, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

SEATTLE -- In what may become a precedent-setting contract, Nike has agreed to let a watchdog group the right to inspect working conditions in overseas factories that make Husky apparel for the University of Washington.

Many other colleges and universities around the country are expected to follow the model contract that the UW has negotiated, said Rod Palmquist, a former UW graduate student who was part of the negotiating team.

At issue was Nike's refusal to allow a watchdog organization, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), to inspect the factories where it makes clothes.

"It's a very significant victory," Palmquist said.

UW President Ana Mari Cauce agreed. In a statement, she said the UW is the first school to have such a contract with Nike, "and I'm confident it will serve as a model for other universities moving forward." She said she believed that "UW leverage and advocacy made a significant difference in the final outcome."

Nike sells millions of dollars worth of college-branded gear throughout the country, in stores like the UW Bookstore, to sports fans. Under the contracts, each college and university gets a cut of the proceeds for gear that features that university's logo.

A student-led group, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), was behind the push to renegotiate the contract. Nationally, USAS has staged protests outside Nike stores around the country to draw attention to the issue, and in the spring, dozens of students showed up at a UW Regents meeting to push for a change to the contract that would allow the watchdog group entry to the factories.

An industry-affiliated organization, the Fair Labor Association, has been inspecting the factories, but student activists said the group was turning a blind eye to violations. The new contract gives both groups entry.

Under the terms of the contract, Nike must withdraw orders from a factory if workplace violations are discovered and the company is unable to get the factory to agree to a remediation plan, Palmquist said.

"It is a precedent-setting contract that expands the influence of anti-sweatshop activists and credible monitors like the WRC, in a way that gives workers more of a voice than they had when this campaign started," Palmquist said.

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