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Victory for Nike workers in Honduras

In a breakthough for labour rights, Nike has agreed to pay £968,000 to garment workers after the closure of two of its subcontracors in Honduras. The clothing giant finally caved in after a year of mounting pressure from universities and grass roots campaigning by students across the US.

Nike has also agreed to provide vocational training and pay health insurance for the workers. This is the first time that a major clothing brand has accepted full financial responsibilty for the debts owed to workers by its subcontractors, and signals a major victory for garment industry workers and labour rights activists.

Scott Nova from the US-based Worker Rights Consortium said, “This may be a watershed moment”. Nova explained that, “Up until now, major apparel brands have steadfastly refused to take any direct financial responsibility for the obligations to the workers in their contractors’ factories. Now the most high-profile sports apparel firm has done just that.”

In January 2009, 1,800 workers lost their jobs following the closure of two of Nike's subcontractors, Vision Tex and Hugger de Honduras. The workers were left without £1.25 million of the severance they were legally owed, and Nike refused to help.

Following complaints by the workers, the WRC issued a report to over 100 universities stating that workers were owed £1.25 million by Nike subcontractors, and urged them to put pressure on Nike to pay up. United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) also launched a grass roots campaign telling Nike to “Just Pay It” and petitioned their universities to end contracts with the sportswear giant.

The University of Wisconsin was the first to terminate its licencing agreement, and Cornell University in New York vowed to do the same if Nike didn't resolve the matter. Students at Cornell delivered a petition of 1,100 signatures, demanding the university end its ties with Nike, a move that was supported by thirty student groups, the student newspaper and the University Assembly.

With the threat of increasing student action at the start of the Autumn term, Nike agreed to the demands of the workers; providing compensation that USAS estimates will total more than £1.25 million.

This success follows the landmark victory by student anti-sweatshop campaigners against Fruit of the Loom and its subsidiary Russell Athletic last November. Over 100 universities boycotted the company after they closed their Jerzees de Honduras factory when workers tried to unionise, forcing them to re-open the factory and rehire all 1,200 employees.

Explaining Monday’s agreement, Jack Mahoney, national organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops, said, “After we got over 100 universities to boycott Russell, Nike understood the university pressure would not simply go away.”

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