Mike On Purpose

Finding purpose in the twenty-first century

Good news from Cornell

Posted by mikeonpurpose on July 7, 2010

Inside Higher Education reports that Cornell, following in the footsteps of the University of Wisconsin, will be terminating its licensing agreement with Nike.

As the second institution – and the only Ivy League university – to take a stand on the labor issue, Cornell’s move is sure to escalate pressure on a company that has been increasingly under fire since the closures of two Honduran factories 16 months ago. At issue is an estimated $2 million in legally mandated severance owed to workers at two Nike supplier factories, Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex, in Honduras.

This might seem like a small victory, but the article reports that

past campaigns – such as one against Russell Athletic – have shown that once a few universities take a stand, others often follow.

Many people may be under the mistaken impression that the sweatshop issue with respect to Nike was resolved away years ago, but in fact it has not, and there are people out there who are still fighting the good fight for the victims of corporate exploitation of workers in developing countries.  Jim Keady has been a leading figure in this fight, as founder of the organization Team Sweat.  This article describes Keady’s journey towards activism:

Back in 1997, Keady was a soccer coach at St. John’s University while simultaneously working towards his masters in theology. A class assignment led him to research how Nike’s labor practices violate human rights. Concurrently, St. John’s was negotiating a $3.5 million endorsement deal with Nike, meaning that he, as a coach, would be required to wear and endorse Nike. Keady realized that it would be hypocritical for a Catholic school, supposedly an institution of Catholic social thought, to partner itself with a transnational sports empire that was violating human rights. This realization turned to activism and he lost his coaching job because he refused to drop the issue and wear Nike. Soon after, he embarked on his life-changing trip to Indonesia and formed Team Sweat, an organization committed to changing Nike’s labor practices.

I think that this illustrates the point that the service that we do to help those in developing countries cannot be separated from developing an understanding of the context that surrounds the economic problems that we witness.  When one visits a country like Honduras (where the closed Nike factories that the Cornell case refers to are located) and sees massive poverty, it is worth remembering that there are often institutionalized forces with vested interests at work that often lead to the poverty we witness.  There are many points of attack for addressing these problems.  Traveling overseas and doing volunteer work is engaging in one point of attack; but once we come home from our trip, that doesn’t mean that the work suddenly stops; there are things we can do right here at home that can have an impact.  In this modern world of globalization, we are more interconnected than ever.  That doesn’t just mean that we are globally connected to the problems, but that we are globally connected to the solutions as well.


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