Nike has withdrawn funds from schools that have joined the WRC. University of Michigan officials are learning that sometimes it isn't easy to do what they think is right. Early this year, student protesters staged a sit-in to pressure Michigan -- the top collegiate clothing manufacturer in the nation -- to join the Worker Rights Consortium to monitor the production of school logo apparel. In February, the school agreed to join the the WRC. But then last Thursday, Nike announced that it was ending negotiations on the renewal of a six-year multi-million dollar contract with the university, citing the school's decision to join the WRC as the cause of the termination. And after this incident and other attacks from the corporate world, some of the approximately 45 member schools in the WRC are suggesting that the organization consider a greater relationship with the apparel industry. But while certain schools have pushed for a better relationship --which could include putting corporate representatives on the WRC governing board -- the organization has no plans just now to take these steps, which are what student activists say differentiate it from the more established Fair Labor Association. WRC spokeswoman Maria Roeper said that under no circumstances would the organization allow industry representatives on its governing board, fearing they might adjust the high standards that the WRC claims to uphold. "They shouldn't have decision making power," Roeper said. "That would undermine the concept of an independent organization." Still, if the WRC sticks to its current make-up of collegiate and human rights groups, companies may continue to express their frustration. Nike officials explained that, by joining the WRC, Michigan had substantially altered the draft agreement that the company and school had negotiated several months before, saying in a statement that the two were no longer "on the same page." Michigan spokesman Joel Seguine said that Michigan is standing firm in its commitment to the WRC. "This comes along, and it's another hit," he explained. "But we're standing on principle." Nike's current agreement with the school, which ends August 31, provides Michigan with sports uniforms and equipment for men's and women's varsity teams. This contract is valued at $7 million, university officials said. And on Friday, Michigan President Lee Bollinger announced the one-time transfer of $3 million from his discretionary fund to the athletic department to help cover the shortfall introduced by the potential loss of Nike funding. Nike's decision to end negotiations with Michigan comes just after Nike President Phil Knight withdrew his informal pledge to donate $30 million to the University of Oregon, his alma mater, to help finance a new football stadium. Oregon joined the WRC in early April. In March, Nike moved to end an agreement to provide hockey equipment to Brown University after the school -- also a new member of the WRC -- tried to renegotiate its contract in accordance with the monitoring organization. Nike officials said the WRC is asking apparel manufacturers to comply with impossibly high standards, but that the company agrees with the overall goal of the monitoring organization -- to secure workers' rights. "It's about possibly subjecting our company to standards that neither we, nor our competitors or even the University of Michigan and its vendors can honestly adhere to," Morris said.Comments powered by Disqus
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