Students host former Nike worker to raise awareness for inhumane sweatshops

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Noi Supalai recounts the hardships and human rights violations she faced during her time working in a factory that produced Nike apparel.

Photo Credit: Fabiana Peña Feeney | Daily Texan Staff

The UT chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops hosted a event yesterday featuring former Nike worker and workers’ rights advocate Noi Supalai.  

Supalai worked in a Nike facility in Thailand and discussed her experience via a translator. She spoke in light of the 2015 multi-million dollar contract between Nike and the University. 

Supalai said in 2009, after the recession, brands were pulling orders from the factory she worked at. Nike offered a deal to the factory, stipulating that it must produce products faster and at lower costs. If the factory did not comply, Nike would revoke its order.

“The workers were forced to produce nonstop,” Supalai said. “We took turns going home to shower and eat, and we didn’t get to go back to our families.”

When wages weren’t distributed for two months, the workers formed a union, and with Supalai as president, tried to negotiate terms with the factory and Nike. Supalai stopped after several attempts because Nike “did not show up” to meetings.

It’s time for Nike to be monitored from outsider organizations, Supalai said.

“I am not telling you to boycott Nike,” Supalai said. “You have to be responsible customers and hold Nike accountable.”

USAS member Kate Sanchez said transparency in Nike facilities is vital.

“Nike has a very long history of human rights violations within their factories that produce their apparel,” Sanchez, a public relations freshman, said. “UT just made the biggest deal in the nation with Nike for Longhorn apparel.”

Nike refused watchdog groups such as the Workers Rights Consortium access into factories, and Sanchez said the University should write a letter to Nike and “put them on notice.”

“We think it is in our University code of conduct that the WRC should be admitted to these factories,” Sanchez said. “We’ve had four meetings with the administration now, and there has been very little to no progress.”

Nike is benefiting from the sweatshop labor — but so is the University, USAS member Andrea Flores said.

“We should have a say in how our University operates, and as students, we have leverage over our Universities and they way they use their power,” Flores, a psychology junior, said.

An ethical business must take care of production lines and all workers, Supalai said. 

“We workers are very upset with Nike because if they wanted to do something, they could,” Supalai said.

Behind every product we buy, there is a face and a story, Flores said.