Arizona Daily Wildcat November 25, 1997
Students protest UA-Nike contract
A group of UA students again denounced the proposed multimillion-dollar UA deal with Nike yesterday, calling for an all-out student boycott of the company's products because of reported worker mistreatment abroad.
"These workers are exploited so that we can live better here in the United States," Law College instructor Andrew Silverman told about 50 onlookers who gathered around the UA Mall stage to hear the 12 protesters.
"We should put pressure on Nike by boycotting," he added.
UA President Peter Likins, who did not attend the noontime demonstration, said he believes in student protests as a means of expression, but added that the Nike demonstrators were tardy in their protest effort because of the current negotiations' late stage.
"I have not had a personal conversation with the students involved in the Nike protest, but I know that Nike has made a serious effort to address this issue," Likins said. "Students in small numbers are sometimes the beginning of a large movement," he said, "but most of the time, that's not the case."
Protest co-organizer James Tracy, a media arts graduate student, said reports from various human rights groups refute Nike's assurances that the company is working hard to improve factory conditions.
He read to the crowd accounts of Nike factory workers in Asian countries who work 12 to 14 hour days for less-than-livable wages while breathing noxious glue fumes and other carcinogens.
The student organizers held a similar Mall demonstration in mid-November about the Athletic Department's proposed Nike contract that would help finance 18 of the UA's Division 1 sports teams.
About 300 UA students, staff and faculty also have signed a petition against the Nike contract, according to protest co-organizer Monica Wilson, a German and anthropology senior.
Tucson workers' rights advocate Joe Bernick, who spoke at yesterday's protest, said his organization, Tucson Jobs With Justice, would support the Nike protest, asking the UA administration to boycott Nike so it would teach students to do the right thing.
"The new administration should lead by example," Bernick said.
UA Athletics Director Jim Livengood told the Arizona Daily Wildcat last week he believes Nike is doing its best to improve workplace conditions.
"If I didn't in my own mind think that Nike was doing its very best effort to get better with regards to its activities, I wouldn't do it just for the money," Livengood said.
Likins said he didn't think it was fair to refuse a deal with Nike on the basis of human rights issues, as long as the company is "honestly desirous" of improving its working conditions.
"If they're doing their best, you don't turn your wrath on them," he said. "There's no reason to assume malevolence on the part of Nike's board of directors. (Nike CEO) Philip Knight is doing his best."
Sociology graduate student James Cook, another speaker at the demonstration, said although he hasn't seen the text of the proposed contract between the UA and Nike, he feared it may contain a clause forbidding administration officials from making any disparaging comments about the athletic shoe company.
Cook said a Nike contract with the University of Kentucky contained such a clause, which he said was in stark contrast with the notion of a university as a place for free speech.
Cook also accused the UA administration of being apathetic about the human rights issue.