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Likins supports Nike labor code changes

By Irene Hsiao
Arizona Daily Wildcat
November 6, 1998
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The UA's top administrator favors changes to Nike's Code of Conduct that will allow independent monitoring firms to inspect factories and report on their findings.

President Clinton's Apparel Industry Partnership, which includes several major apparel makers, signed an agreement Tuesday to work with labor, human rights and religious groups to oversee audits of factory conditions worldwide.

"This is very positive news," University of Arizona President Peter Likins said. "I was pleased the apparel company had come to an agreement."

The new agreement, also signed by Reebok, L. L. Bean and others, allows for unannounced, random factory inspections.

Under the $7 million contract the UA signed with Nike in August, university administrators can call for factory inspections only if they suspect human rights violations.

Some student labor rights groups, such as Students Against Sweatshops, have complained that it would be impossible for UA personnel to detect violations going on thousands of miles away. Nike does not manufacture any of its products in the United States.

The advisory group created by the Code of Conduct change will not include input from universities, nor will it affect the conditions of the UA-Nike contract.

Still, Mike Low, UA director of trademark licensing and liaison to the Collegiate Licensing Co., said the change could set a positive example for the way colleges and universities monitor the labor conditions of companies such as Nike.

"I'm pretty enthused," Low said. "If the code we're drafting for colleges ties back to this, it's the last piece of the puzzle."

The biggest remaining problem is how the process will work, Low said.

"The university is not in the monitoring business," he said.

The Collegiate Licensing Co. has a task force comprised of 14 universities around the country that is developing a standard collegiate code to regulate the interaction between schools and corporate sponsors, Low said.

Currently, each university has its own individual agreements with such corporations.

Students Against Sweatshops has criticized the Collegiate Licensing Co. board because it does not include student representatives, but Likins said they would only get in the way of progress.

"Younger people feel if they compromise, they have to give up some of their values," Likins said. "Students don't get invited because they don't compromise."

University attorney Mike Proctor was pleased that the companies have agreed to help pay for independent monitoring firms.

If the UA suspected Nike was violating human rights in its factories, the school might not be able to afford sending an auditor overseas to confirm it.

"I think it's progress for that agreement - it took a lot of work for all these groups," Proctor said.

Likins said the new agreement will make overseas inspections more feasible because apparel manufacturers have promised to help finance it.

"Although it'll be a struggle, the monitoring strategies are workable," he said.

Likins said the UA cannot fix the problem of policing labor violations by itself.

"It can't be solved by individual companies or organizations, " he said. "It's not only a foreign problem, but an American problem too."

Irene Hsiao can be reached via e-mail at Irene.Hsiao@wildcat.arizona.edu.