The collective action of American college students is making a difference for some of the world's most vulnerable workers. This summer, the group United Students Against Sweatshops announced that apparel maker Nike finally agreed to aid 1,800 workers in Honduras who lost their jobs when two Nike subcontractors closed their factories without paying severance. Starting this spring, the group's Nike Truth Tour visited college campuses coast to coast, including in Florida, laying out the case for Nike to act and harnessing the passion of youth to care for something beyond the entertainment culture.
The agreement reached between Nike and a Honduran labor federation is a watershed. The company initially refused to help the workers who had been let go without receiving more than $2 million in severance owed to them under Honduran law. The company said it was the responsibility of the factories to pay their workers properly. But after students began holding protests at dozens of Nike stores with signs that said "Just Pay It" and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, terminated its licensing agreement with Nike, the company came around. Nike agreed to pay $1.54 million into a worker relief fund, underwrite worker health coverage and provide the laid off workers with priority hiring at the other factories it uses in Honduras.
Through student anti-sweatshop organizing, colleges and universities around the country have committed to contract only with collegiate apparel makers that agree to a code of conduct protecting the basic rights of factory workers. Last November, Russell Athletic agreed to rehire 1,200 Honduran workers from a factory it closed soon after the workers had unionized. About 100 universities had suspended or cut ties with the company due to its actions against workers.
These kinds of victories don't happen often, but the anti-sweatshop movement has laid the groundwork for students to use their power as consumers and as members of the campus community to promote social justice around the world. For students, the lesson is clear: Working together for a just cause can bring results.