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The University and Nike parted ways this summer — at least temporarily — after Nike was unwilling to agree to Brown's standard agreement for its business partners.


The separation makes Brown the third university since April known to have pressured Nike to end what labor-rights activists have called worker abuse in Honduran manufacturing plants.


When it was time to renew the Brown Bookstore's contract, the University "reiterated the Brown Licensee Code of Conduct with Nike," Brown's Assistant Vice President for Financial and Administrative Services Elizabeth Gentry wrote in a July 14 e-mail to the Student Labor Alliance. "Nike decided they were not able to sign/renew their license to produce items bearing Brown's name and logo under those conditions." The code of conduct includes standards for environmental conduct and labor relations, among other things.


The licensing contract with Nike to supply the Brown Bookstore was cancelled effective July 1, Gentry wrote, though the Bookstore planned to continue to sell off its remaining Nike inventory until depletion.


After the factories Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex closed in January 2009, Nike was accused of not paying its former laborers more than $2 million in legally mandated severances.


According to an April press release from the Oregon-based athletic company, the factories were owned by two subcontractors. The release states Nike's position that factories directly employing workers, and not Nike, are responsible for ensuring that their employees receive proper compensation. The company also maintained that apart from a one-time order at one of the plants, neither plant was used to make collegiate-licensed products.


On July 26, Nike agreed to pay the two factories' displaced workers the $2.5 million in severance benefits they demanded, but Nike's future relationship with Brown is uncertain.


"If they are willing to re-sign the standard Code of Conduct that Brown issues, we would probably go back to them," Bookstore Director Steven Souza said.

Souza said he did not want to speculate as to what part of Brown's Code of Conduct Nike found unacceptable or if Nike could abide by the code now.

Nike did not return requests for comment last week.


Brown Student Labor Alliance member Haley Kossek '13 said Brown's letter to Nike came at a pivotal time in negotiations between Nike and labor unions, and the mounting pressure from universities likely helped turn the tide of negotiations in the laborers' favor.


Kossek said the labor alliance brought two displaced Honduran workers to meet with Brown administrators in April, but were told at that time the issues were not clear-cut enough for the University to terminate its contract with Nike.


The University's ultimate actions demonstrate its readiness to apply its Code of Conduct not only to its licensees, but also to their subcontractors, Kossek said.


"Nike was still involved because these companies were producers for Nike," Souza said.


Kossek called the settlement a "historic victory" for labor rights and said it illustrates the power of universities to use apparel contracts as tools to enact fair labor standards.


Brown's parting with Nike followed disagreements with the company at two other universities. The University of Wisconsin at Madison announced it would sever ties with Nike in April, and Cornell threatened in June not to renew its collegiate apparel contract with the company at the end of the calendar year if Nike did not agree to pay its subcontractors' displaced workers.



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