In January 2011, a group of Xavier students started a movement called “Just Disclose It” in response to Xavier five year contract with Nike. At first, we wanted to cut all ties with Nike but soon found that this was not an option and, instead, decided to ask Xavier’s administration to demand that Nike disclose its factory workers wages. Just Disclose It also promoted Xavier pressuring Nike to change its labor practices and ensure that all its workers were making a living wage. A living wage, as defined by Catholic Social Teaching, is enough money for food, water, shelter, education, health care, transportation, modest recreation, and modest savings. In March of 2011, Jim Keady the founder of the Team Sweat movement came to speak at Xavier.
Keady was an assistant soccer coach and graduate student at St. John’s University when he started research on Nike’s practices and if they were socially just. In his video “Nike Sweatshops: Behind the Swoosh” Keady states, “If you wanted to pick a company that completely violates everything Catholic Social Teaching is about, Nike would be your perfect case study.” At the time of his research, St. John’s began to negotiate a contract with Nike that would force Keady, as a coach, to wear the Nike label. When Keady refused, he was asked to leave his coaching position. He then left for Indonesia and lived with Nike factory workers, only spending the amount they are paid- $1.25 a day. Upon returning from Indonesia, Keady began to contact Nike’s corporate offices to bring the harsh labor and living conditions of their workers. His mission continues in his organization- Team Sweat.
In November 2011, I had the privilege to go to the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. IFTJ is a weekend long conference held in Washington, D.C. where Jesuit high schools, universities and organizations gather to discuss, promote, and lobby for social justice. I was excited to hear that Jim Keady was the main speaker! His presentation was very similar to the one he held at Xavier except, at the end, he began to call out each university that was sponsored by Nike (Xavier was the first one he acknowledged). Keady urged us to go back to our universities, promote our Jesuit values and pressure Nike to change its labor practices.
Both of these experiences really made me question Xavier and its Jesuit ideals. How could a school, guided by Catholic Social Teaching, be sponsored by a corporation that obviously violates human rights? However, upon returning to Xavier, I was excited to learn that we carry Alta Gracia spirit wear in the bookstore. Alta Gracia is a factory in the Dominican Republic that ensures its workers earn a living wage. The products by Alta Gracia are around the same price as the other spirit wear the bookstore carries. And it is almost always cheaper than Nike! I was also proud to discover the Coffee Emporium buys their coffee and chocolate from fair or direct trade. Direct trade means that Coffee Emporium’s buyers know the people or co-op that grows the product directly, instead of through a chain of middlemen. This allows them to ensure that the farmers are being paid fairly for what they produce.
However, Xavier is not obviously perfect when it comes to economic justice. It is our job as members of the Xavier community to continue to promote these companies on campus who have just labor practices. It is also our job to urge administration to continue to invest in companies with just practices. And as a university sponsored by Nike, we are better equipped to put pressure on Nike than if we were acting as individuals. Standing together as a university, and in a community with other universities who want just labor practices, we can help change the view on people who work in factories and continue to promote awareness of economic injustice.
Kelsey Witzgall is a senior History and French double major. Kelsey is a heavily involved student on campus as she is the Co-President for Voices of Solidarity and the Vice-President of Students for Women’s Progress.