The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday January 29th

Committee Looks At Nike's Alleged Labor Violations

The labor committee examined a report by the Worker Rights Consortium about the Mexican factory producing UNC apparel.

Assistant University Editor

While students are forking over cash for UNC sweatshirts, the "perfect storm" of labor code violations could be brewing in a Mexico factory.

Continuing the University's correspondence with Nike Corp., the Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee met Friday to draft a letter requesting that Nike use its leverage to effect change in the plant.

The committee members also used the letter to express concern about why Nike did not notice the factory's alleged labor code violations earlier and about how many more factories could be engaging in similar practices.

The Kukdong factory in Puebla, Mexico, produces Nike sweatshirts for UNC as well as the universities of Michigan, Oregon and Arizona and Indiana University.

On Jan. 9, 800 employees staged a strike at the Kukdong factory in support of their right to create their own union and in protest of worker conditions. Many of the workers who participated in the walkout have not been reinstated.

Chancellor James Moeser sent a letter to Nike on Jan. 18, informing the company that UNC was aware of the alleged violations at the factory.

At Friday's meeting, the committee reviewed the preliminary findings of a Jan. 24 report by the Worker Rights Consortium, a labor monitoring group of which UNC is a member, that analyzed labor practices in the Kukdong factory.

"It's largely confirmed on all parts that we have more violations than people being fired," said committee member Don Hornstein, a law professor. "This is something like the perfect storm. It seems that every one of our (labor) code provisions have been violated."

The report stated that Kukdong factory managers employed children younger than 15 years old, abused workers by assaulting them with hammers and screwdrivers, did not pay workers the Mexican minimum wage and fed the workers rancid meat.

Committee members also questioned why Nike did not realize these violations were going on and if similar violations were occurring at other factories that produce Nike gear.

"We need to talk to the appropriate representative from Nike about their internal monitoring system and why the acts were not noticed previously," said committee member Jack Evans, a business professor. "Then we need to look at the Nike supply chain."

In its letter, the committee requested that Nike use its leverage to get the Kukdong factory workers reinstated and that the company promote the workers' right to form a union.

The committee also asked to schedule a meeting with a Nike representative to discuss its labor monitoring practices.

Director of Athletics Dick Baddour proposed that the committee meet with a Nike representative on Feb. 8, the same day the Department of Athletics will meet with Nike to work on UNC's contract with the company.

Baddour also said he would take efforts to get the University's licensing labor code, which was adopted in 1999, included in the contract if it is renewed.

The code currently applies to UNC's licensed clothing but not officially to teams' uniforms. "We have treated (uniforms) as partly in, partly out of the licensing agreement," Rut Tufts, director of auxiliary services, said. "This would simply formalize something that is in place anyway."

Students for Economic Justice members said the code's inclusion would mark a large step for UNC. "SEJ is elated," said member Kea Parker. "It's definitely a change that's just been taken today."

In the next few weeks, Tufts said the committee will continue to closely follow the ongoing situation in Mexico.

"We need to do everything we can to get the workers back in the plant, and we need to address the larger freedom of association issue," he said. "We also need to get a better understanding of how Nike is going to address this globally."

But Tufts said he thinks the University's relationship with Nike is going in the right direction. "I think Nike wants to do the right thing, but it will be helpful with us pushing for it."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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