Lidya Yatin is the president of United Students Against Sweatshops at the University of Kentucky
United Students Against Sweatshops at the University of Kentucky won a major victory when the school’s administration agreed to include a Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) protocol into its contract with Nike. The success of the ‘Make UK Sweat-Free’ campaign in the 2017-2018 academic year is largely the result of UK USAS’s previous presence a few years prior. While the student leaders who founded the organization had graduated, they left a lasting impression on the administration during their active years, which allowed for our strategies to quickly succeed.
United Students Against Sweatshops was revived on UK’s campus in late October of 2017, when activists posted up hundreds of flyers, wrote on countless whiteboards and blackboards, and spoke in front of classes. Our newly founded group dropped off a letter addressed to our university president, Eli Capilouto. The letter outlined our wish to add the Worker Rights Consortium protocol into UK’s contract with Nike worth $47 million.
The WRC protocol involves three points: access to Nike collegiate apparel factories, investigation of those factories, and reporting and remediation with Nike.
In this letter, we asked that the president meet with our organization. Within one week, the university’s Chief of Staff, Bill Swinford, emailed us stating that he would be willing to meet with us. By mid-November, we met with Bill Swinford, along with Jason Schlafer, Executive Associate Athletic Director. In this meeting both parties established their goals and set a rough timeline for the progress of events, with Schlafer assuring that the new contract would be finalized “while it’s still cold outside.”
Due to the administrations’ receptiveness, we opted to then focus on awareness-raising and educational tabling events around campus. The success of our campaign was a consequence of our ability to hold the administration accountable by building support among students and workers over time. We asked for and maintained biweekly emails with progress updates from Swinford.
We posted progress updates and group photos on our Faceboook page. We notified faculty and our student newsletter, the Kentucky Kernel, about our organization, our campaign and our progress. We have had two articles published in the newsletter thanks to this relationship.
Upon coming back to campus for spring semester, Swinford notified us that a letter from Nike had arrived and that a second meeting was in order. On February 19, USAS and the administration met and our group was made aware of the amended UK-Nike contract with the WRC protocol. This was confirmed by a letter given to us from Fermata Partners to Schlafer: “I am writing to inform you that Fermata Partners, as trademark licensing agent on behalf of the University of Kentucky, and NIKE USA finalized and executed an amendment to the Retail Products Licensing Agreement earlier today. This amendment obligates NIKE to comply with the Protocol for WRC Investigations of Nike Supplier Factories. Nike’s compliance with the WRC Protocol is now a binding term under the license agreement.” (Dated February 1, 2018).
We congratulated Swinford and Schlafer for their cooperation. United Students Against Sweatshops at the University of Kentucky is excited to continue advocating for workers’ rights.