CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- About 100 University of North Carolina students turned out Friday for a rally held to protest the school's $7.1 million Nike contract, but not everyone came to slam the Swoosh.
Organized by the Nike Awareness Campaign, the rally was held outside the office of chancellor Michael Hooker, who defended the contract and said Nike wasn't the only sports equipment company with labor issues.
"Let's suppose we're offended by Nike's labor practices and accept an offer from Reebok," Hooker said. "Reebok manufactures in the same facilities in Southeast Asia. You can't pick one that doesn't manufacture in the same factories as Nike uses. You're confronted with a dilemma."
Hooker said he was scheduled to meet with Nike executives next week to discuss concerns about the Asian factories where Nike shoes are made.
Nike Awareness Campaign spokesman Todd Pugatch told the crowd the group is not demanding that the school pull out of the contract. But he called on the university to establish a committee to oversee all the school's corporate contractual agreements and to publicly work to improve the overseas labor situation.
Hooker said North Carolina already has a committee that reviews contracts with companies.
The Nike Awareness Campaign plans to hand out fliers at Saturday's Florida State-North Carolina football game at Kenan Stadium. Florida State has a $6 million contract with Nike.
At the rally, the group passed around a petition it plans to send to Hooker. Not all the students at the rally were eager to sign it.
Members of the student-run Support the Swoosh campaign, which defends the shoe company's efforts to improve labor conditions, passed out its own fliers.
With public attention focused on it, the Beaverton, Ore., shoe giant last month severed ties with four Indonesian factories for refusing to comply with the company's standards for wages and working conditions. Earlier this year, Nike hired former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young to investigate conditions at its Asian plants.
Sophomore Camille Graham is not a member of Support the Swoosh, but wore a Nike sweatshirt and a Nike necklace to the rally.
"They're just using Nike as a target," said Graham, who is not a varsity athlete. "There are a lot of corporations that do the same thing with their labor. Those factories make all kinds of things. I think it's unfair that they're just targeting Nike."
Alisa Simon, a graduate student who used to live in Thailand, said the school's students should take an active role on the issue because of their unique perspective.
"We're all consumers of this university and we can't afford to disengage from what's happening on a global level," Simon said.
Hooker said the athletic department needs contracts like the one it signed with Nike because it receives no money from the academic budget and needs such an agreement in order to survive.
"When we face the question of whether we should accept that deal with Nike, we need to ask, `What are the alternatives available to us?' " Hooker said. "We could've said, `Well, no, we don't want your uniforms, we'll pay for them.' In order to do that, we would have to add $100 per student per year to the athletic fee."
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