University of Washington President Mark Emmert indicated yesterday that he was ready to take action against Nike for alleged mistreatment of workers at two factories run by subcontractors in Honduras.
UW T-shirts bear the Nike swoosh
"He thinks it's time to give Nike a serious message," says Margaret Levi, a political science professor who met with Emmert in her capacity as co-chair of a faculty and student committee that advises him on dealings with companies like Nike that manufacture goods bearing the UW logo.
What form that message will take is not yet clear. He asked Levi and another co-chair what the options were, and they told him that he could, at the minimum, write a letter to Nike expressing dissatisfaction with the way workers at the factories were denied severance pay when the facilities suddenly closed. University of Wisconsin Chancellor Biddy Martin wrote such a letter to Nike in November, and asked the sportswear company to come up with a remediation plan.At the maximum, Emmert could find Nike in violation of the university's code of conduct and threaten to withdraw its licensing contract if the company doesn't make things right with workers. That is the tack recommended by Levi's Advisory Committee on Trademarks and Licensing.
Levi says she didn't get a sense of which way Emmert was leaning except that "he made it clear that...an option is not nothing." Emmert spokesperson Norm Arkans says he expects the president to "act with some dispatch," possibly within days but almost certainly by the end of the month.
The controversy arouses heightened interest on campus because Provost Phyllis Wise last week accepted a position on Nike's board of directors. She has said she will recuse herself from university decisions about Nike but some faculty and students nonetheless argue that her lucrative affiliation with the company is inappropriate.