New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Students protest NYU Bookstore’s ties to Nike

The students are demanding that the university cut ties with Nike until the company pays wages owed to workers at a factory in Thailand.
The protest was organized by Pay Your Workers NYU, a group of students that advocates for garment workers’ adequate pay. (Photo courtesy of Pay Your Workers NYU)

Around 20 students met inside the NYU Bookstore on Friday before picketing outside to demand that the university cut its contract with Nike, following accusations of not paying its employees at a factory in Thailand that provides the bookstore with Nike-branded merchandise. 

Pay Your Workers NYU, a group of students advocating for garment workers’ adequate pay, organized the demonstration, calling the university complicit in over $800,000 in backpay owed to more than 3,300 workers at the Bangkok factory, Hong Seng Knitting. The students gathered in the Nike section of the bookstore when a protest organizer, sophomore Brandon Wu, read a statement addressing NYU’s affiliation with Workers’ Rights Consortium, a labor rights group that conducted an independent investigation of labor violations at the factory. 

“The ultimate overarching goal is to get Nike to pressure the factory — the Hong Seng factory in Thailand — to pay its workers the wages that it stole,” Wu said in an interview with WSN. “The way that NYU can contribute to that is by applying direct pressure and cutting its contract with Nike to demonstrate that we as students are not going to stand for unethically sourced collegiate apparel.” 

After the factory closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WRC released a report in 2021 accusing Nike of ignoring the “overwhelming evidence of worker coercion” and not providing its employees with adequate compensation. Thai law states that employers must pay reduced wages to temporarily suspended workers, but the former employees had said they did not receive compensation after the factory closed.

A letter from a group of six university chapters of Pay Your Workers said factory management would threaten workers with arrest and deportation when they refused to sign forms, “claiming they desired an unpaid work leave.” This prompted one Burmese worker at Hong Seng to flee to safety in Myanmar.  

(Photo courtesy of Pay Your Workers NYU)

Pay Your Workers NYU has been calling on the university to cut ties with Nike since October. Most recently, the group delivered a letter to NYU president Linda Mills on Feb. 16, which called on the university to cut its contract with Nike and claimed that the NYU administration refused to meet with the group about the company’s labor violations. The letter also mentioned Nike’s treatment of its employees at the factory violates NYU’s expectations for licensed merchandisers, which ensures that “merchandise is manufactured under a code of conduct designed to reinforce fair-labor practices and prohibit sweatshop conditions.”  

“We take the matter seriously, we are working with the WRC and the FLA, and we are reviewing it,” university spokesperson John Beckman wrote to WSN.

The Feb. 16 letter comes after three NYU students were allegedly harassed at a Nike store in Washington, D.C. during a Feb. 3 rally, where students from six universities called on their respective institutions to cut ties with Nike. Student groups of Pay Your Workers attempted to give the store manager a letter to “take action to compensate workers the value of their stolen wages,” but the manager refused to accept it. 

Sophomore Hazel Walrod said that compared to the protest in October, where the group delivered a letter addressed to Mills to the head of the bookstore, Pay Your Workers NYU was actually able to demonstrate inside the store to bring more attention to the situation and get a response from administration. 

“We were able to take up space within our bookstore as students and that was one of the main purposes of this process,” Walrod told WSN. “As well as to take a place in our actual bookstore where the actual evidence of this exported labor is and make an abstract concept more physical and more real for the participants, passersby and people that are shopping within the bookstore.” 

Update, March 4: This article has been updated with a statement from an NYU spokesperson.

Contact Aashna Miharia at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Aashna Miharia
Aashna Miharia, Deputy News Editor
Aashna Miharia is a first-year studying journalism and public policy with a minor in business studies. She’s from the Boston area and a novelist, coffee enthusiast and lover of independent bookstores. You can usually find her listening to an audiobook while wandering around New York City or on Instagram @aashnamiharia.

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