The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Hong Seng Worker Student Solidarity Campaign protests Pitt’s sale of Nike apparel

Nike+branded+merchandise+in+the+Pitt+Shop.
Evan Fuccio | Staff Photographer
Nike branded merchandise in the Pitt Shop.

Students at Pitt are joining a national movement of schools across the country calling for the University to cut their contracts with Nike. 

This movement comes after claims that the company withheld around $800,000 in furlough wages from workers at the Hong Seng Knitting Factory, the world’s leading sports manufacturing company primarily located in Bangkok, Thailand.

Cameryn Gray, a junior history and politics and philosophy major, is one of several students protesting Pitt’s use of Nike clothing. Gray founded the chapter at Pitt of the Students for International Labor Solidarity at the beginning of the fall 2023 semester, along with sophomore English writing major El Besjak, sophomore computer science, neuroscience, and philosophy major Sakeena Badrane and junior history major Yosef Nelson. The organization began with approximately 20 students, and “grows with every meeting,” according to Gray.

Gray and Besjak said their goal as an organization is to hold both Pitt and Nike accountable for the production of clothing they “profit millions of dollars from,” as well as to educate current and future students on the importance of the issue.

“This movement has been growing rapidly and is moving internationally,” Gray and Besjak said in jointly written responses. “One of our biggest successes thus far has been targeting prospective students as they come to campus. We believe all students should know the school they go to and plan to commit to.”

Gray and Besjak said students and faculty have been “super responsive” when it comes to creating progress toward the campaign.

“We have been working with the faculty union and student divestment campaigns to pressure Joan Gabel to cut the contract with Nike,” Gray and Besjak said. “We have had actions and meetings with many students and organizations around Pittsburgh and internationally, and we are confident that we can get these workers paid after nearly four years of complicity by Pitt and Nike.”

While Pitt’s chapter of the campaign has had success in involving students and faculty within the university, they said reaching administration has been more difficult. Gray and Besjak said administration has been “largely unresponsive” to their demands for change.

“Administration has only used our meetings with them as an opportunity to remind us that we should be mindful of the actions we do and to make false claims of their involvement with Hong Seng at the time of the wage theft scheme,” Gray and Besjak said.

Another objective of the campaign is to personally persuade Chancellor Joan Gabel to end Pitt’s contract with Nike, whom Gray and Besjak said they have been unable to reach.

“We hope to get Joan Gabel to come out of the woodwork and speak to us, so we can ask her personally to cut the contract with Nike,” Gray and Besjak said. “Joan Gabel has been unresponsive to our demands thus far, despite being the only person in the entire University with the power to cut the contract. Our football coach, Pat Narduzzi, could pay all of the workers with a fraction of his yearly salary, as can Joan Gabel.”

In response to the campaign’s concerns regarding Pitt’s actions, University spokesperson Jared Stonesifer said University officials have communicated “openly” and “transparently” with students in an effort to “hear their concerns and work collaboratively on this issue.”

“After an initial meeting with them in November, University officials reached out to other universities and officials to gather information in order to report back on the results of those conversations and potential next steps,” Stonesifer said. 

Stonesifer said Chancellor Gabel appointed Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Legal Officer Geovette Washington and Interim Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Carla Panzella to lead the conversation and meet with students, a decision that was communicated to the students.

“An in-person meeting was scheduled for late February and, on the morning of the meeting, the students arrived and announced their decision not to engage, then left the meeting without hearing the update prepared by senior leaders,” Stonesifer said.

In response to the University’s statement, Gray said because the meeting scheduled with administration was not with Chancellor Gabel, it was “not a satisfaction of [their] demands.”

“Our focus is to get the workers at Hong Seng Knitting Factory paid, and right now meeting with anyone but Joan Gabel would be counterproductive to that goal,” Gray said. “We found our time to be better utilized targeting prospective students and holding a rally, as administration has only used these meetings in the past to provide us with misinformation or threaten our actions.”

Gray and Besjak said the response by Pitt’s administration does not align with the information provided by the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor rights monitoring organization. 

“Geovette Washington directly claimed that none of Pitt’s apparel at the time of the wage theft came from Hong Seng, which a reliable fact-finding body that Pitt is allied with, the WRC, found to be untrue, information which can be found on the WRC website,” Gray and Besjak said. “We refuse to be intimidated by their reductive actions, and will continue to escalate our campaign.”

Gray and Besjak said Pitt renewed their contract with Nike after receiving the WRC labor rights violation report consistently for three years this past summer, which they find “even more maddening.”

“When asked about it, Geovette Washington said it was because ‘we choose to have apparel,’ which goes to show how little the administration values the lives of those making their income source,” Gray and Besjak said.

Stonesifer said the university will continue to work toward addressing the Hong Seng campaign issue.

“The University is committed to engaging on this matter and will continue to seek ways to work with other universities and organizations that are positioned to support action,” Stonesifer said.

About the Contributor
Anna Kuntz, Staff Writer