Nike kills talks on renewing deal with University of Michigan

DETROIT - The president of the University of Michigan says he has no problem with losing a licensing agreement with Nike Inc. that could have brought the school millions of dollars.

Lee Bollinger said the university's commitment to human rights outweighed any financial advantage it could have gotten by renewing its six-year agreement with the sports apparel maker.

''There's no way to avoid, nor is it desirable to try to avoid, a (university's) relationship with a corporate enterprise,'' he said. ''We have to supply our programs with equipment.

''The question is with whom and under what conditions.''

The president's remarks came after Nike announced Thursday it had terminated negotiations with the school on the renewal of a licensing agreement that expires Aug. 31.

Bollinger accused the sports apparel company of retaliating against the university for its involvement with the Worker Rights Consortium, a student-driven coalition of schools demanding that Nike provide better labor conditions for overseas workers.

Last week, Nike Chairman Phil Knight withdrew plans to donate $30 million to his alma mater, the University of Oregon, after that school joined the consortium.

''Michigan seems to be the next target of a major attempt by Nike to breach understandings and make some kind of corporate statement,'' Bollinger said.

Kit Morris, Nike's director of college sports marketing, said in a statement that the breakdown of talks with Michigan had nothing to do with the university's membership in the consortium.

But, Morris said, one of the changes Michigan sought in the proposed contract - regarding labor issues - was ''problematic.''

That change, Morris said, ''would give the university unilateral authority to impose any standards, guidelines or principles that they should adopt over the six-year term of the agreement, and that kind of open-checkbook agreement is something that we're simply unprepared to agree to.''

Nike recently has increased its minimum age requirement for footwear workers to an industry-high 18 years of age; improved indoor air quality of its footwear factories; raised wages for its Indonesian footwear workers by more than 70 percent over the past 20 months; and established after-hours education programs for its footwear workers, Morris said.

Nike did not disclose the dollar value of the proposed new contract with Michigan, one of 200 colleges and universities with which it has licensing agreements.

But the new deal would have been what Nike called its largest university ''partnership'' - providing funding and Nike footwear, apparel and equipment to all 25 men's and women's varsity teams and recreational sports programs through August 2006.

Under Michigan's existing deal with Nike, the company annually pays the athletics department $590,000.

Nike also supplies $930,000 in products to be Michigan's exclusive sporting goods provider and gets a promotional boost from placing its logo on Wolverine uniforms.


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