On July 29, despite a rainy Saturday, dozens of students from across the District of Columbia gathered for what would become the apex of our nearly two-year campaign: a picket line outside Nike’s flagship store in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC.
M Street echoed with chants of “What’s disgusting? Union busting! What’s outrageous? Nike wages!” Signs of scissors cutting the Nike logo bobbed alongside signs reading “F**k Nike” and “Nike Lies” in the familiar midsummer drizzle. Business for the day plummeted, as it did in the 25 cities across the world we joined in a Global Day of Action. In DC, the Nike store manager watched as the protesters blocked the sidewalk for hours, in his hand a letter that made our message clear: We demanded justice.
That was eight weeks ago. On August 30, as the iconic Healy Hall clock tower chimed at 4:30 pm on the first day of classes, Georgetown finally announced its new licensing contract with Nike. After two years of meetings with administrators, protests, sit-ins, and demonstrations, for the first time ever, Nike signed a contract that ensures full, independent access for the Worker Rights Consortium, the world’s only independent monitoring agency for factories.
The victory didn’t come without a struggle. Since 2015, we, the Georgetown Solidarity Committee and the United Students Against Sweatshops, have led a campaign against Nike, singling out the company as a bad actor in an apparel industry otherwise marked by steady improvements in conditions. By invoking the Jesuit tenet of “men and women for others” that the Georgetown administration constantly touts, we demanded the university support its high-minded rhetoric with genuine policy. Georgetown was one of several universities to spearhead the anti-sweatshop movement in the 1990s, a campaign that culminated in the founding of the Worker Rights Consortium in 2000, and we demanded that it again act as a moral bellwether for other universities as it had in the past.
Nike has benefited from unique arrangements with Georgetown since the school’s rise to basketball prominence in the early 1980s, when the corporation signed its first of many multimillion-dollar licensing and athletic contracts with the university. Today, the relationship has only strengthened. Georgetown currently holds the largest Air Jordan contract in the country; the university’s former basketball coach John R. Thompson Jr. even serves on Nike’s Board of Directors. These close ties to Georgetown have afforded the company more leeway than other licensees, such as Adidas and Under Armour: Nike, for example, is the sole brand not required to sign the university’s code of conduct, which gives Georgetown the authority to select an independent monitor to investigate labor abuses.