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UW USAS confronts Nike during an on-campus forum for workers’ rights

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Leo Baunach, a member of UW USAS, spoke at the Campus Forum on Ethically Responsible Production and Consumption which took place on Friday.

CORRECTION:In “UW USAS confronts Nike during an on-campus forum on workers’ rights,” Kelda Rericha was misquoted and instead of saying “cooperation” said “collaboration.” Also, 40 out of 1,300, not 13,000, workers have been given their jobs back.

The UW’s United Students Against Sweatshops (UW USAS) continued to put pressure on alleged unethical corporations at the Campus Forum on Ethically Responsible Production and Consumption, which took place at the UW on Friday.

The forum was held to discuss the issues of implementing ethical production supply chain usages, which is a business practice that entails using contracted factories that support and practice the rights, such as health care and fair wages, of its workers. Panel members included executives from the U-Book Store, Alta Gracia Apparel, Honduran General Workers’ Confederation and Nike Inc. The forum touched on the university community’s role in fostering and practicing business with ethical corporations, which are those that implement fair business practices.

Leo Baunach, a member of UW USAS and presenter at the forum, said that workers facing the toughest situations, and still making use of the resources that they have to fight against injustice in workers’ rights implementation, is something that can inspire the university community.

“Higher labor standards can work. … We cannot be in a box and think that we cannot do anything,” Baunach said.

Nike Inc. has been under UW USAS scrutiny since 2010 for contracting factories that allegedly violate workers’ rights in Honduras. Nike Inc., along with the Central General de Trabajadores de Honduras (CGT) that was representing the former employees of the Nike contract supplier factories Hugger and Vision Tex, was there to discuss the issue of the university’s role in higher labor standards.

“The message that we want to get out is the need for cooperation [between higher-education institutions and big corporations],” said Kelda Rericha, communications and stakeholder manager at Nike Inc.

During the six-hour discussion, university community members and corporation representatives focused on the issues of implementation challenges of an ethical supply-chain usage.

Baunach and Morgan Currier, another UW USAS representative, pressed the importance of corporations such as Nike Inc. taking a more rapid approach toward a commitment in correcting its workers’ rights violations.

“The UW played a very significant role in the Nike case. … Corporations have taken dramatic changes,” said Milli Lake, a graduate research assistant to the Brand Responsibility Project. According to the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the UW, the project documents “key negotiations with apparel suppliers in which American universities, as institutional consumers, played a significant role.”

In 2010, Nike Inc. made a commitment worth more than $1.45 million to improve its contracted workers’ conditions in Honduras. Lesley Kavanagh, the sustainable manufacturing performance director for Nike Inc. in America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said that the company has promised to provide a workers’ relief fund, vocational workers’ trainings, workers’ unions, and providing priority rehiring for displaced workers.

“The $1.45 million have all been dispersed now,” Kavanagh said.

However, Baunach said that only 40 out of 13,000 workers have been given back their jobs to date.

Panels also raised concerns about the lack of implementation of codes of conduct, which are laws that protect workers’ rights, by governments on big corporations and society’s role in preventing oppression of workers by large corporations.

Aseem Prakash, a UW political science professor, said consumers look for cheaper prices in their daily good consumptions and the bad consequences of this eventually makes its way to the workers who are at the end of the supply chain.

“[There are] a lot of codes of conducts that are forced to fool us,” Prakash said, who said he felt the codes were present but ineffective in some business practices. “If you can create a society that respects values and protects the environment, it will bring good to the society in the end.”

Ken Koseki, a member of the Social Entrepreneurship Club, said that such implementation is critical within university communities because students rely on their college experience to shape their thinking about social responsibility.

“I believe students are interested in good acts,” Koseki said. “We become adults and then have social responsibilities. The university is a good place to see these things.”

Reach reporter Aina Nadia Rafee at news@dailyuw.com.

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