After embarking on a new partnership with Nike, Michigan State University should be able to use its clout as the men's basketball national champion to push for improvements in the company's overseas' factories.

In 1998, Nike faced charges of operating sweatshops, using child labor, ignoring dangerous work conditions and underpaying its employees. The company has improved in the past two years and joined the Fair Labor Association, a White House-supported group that monitors labor practices. But it is still mentioned when human rights violations are discussed, which indirectly affects the colleges and universities donning Nike apparel.

Most companies in the apparel industry could improve conditions in their factories - Nike is hardly unique in that capacity. As a member of the FLA, Nike has made it clear it does not support the Worker Rights Consortium, another labor-monitoring organization that some MSU students have pushed the university to join.

MSU is a hot commodity in the sports apparel industry since the men's basketball championship. The university should use this success as leverage and not be pressured to remain in the FLA by Nike. The university must decide independently which organization is best for overseas' workers.

Nike revoked a contract with Brown University's hockey team last month after the school joined the WRC. Other Big Ten universities, such as the University of Iowa and the University of Illinois, are already members of the WRC. It is imperative MSU not back down from a company like Nike.

Despite Reebok's unwillingness to renew its licensing contract with MSU, the Spartans are still in high demand. In the unlikely instance of Nike threatening to terminate the fledgling contract if MSU signed on to the WRC, MSU would not have a problem signing with another company, such as Adidas or Converse. Overall, it is still in the best interest of both MSU and Nike to work together, as each entity can provide something of value to the other.

Nike gives MSU instant credibility in the athletic world because the company traditionally sponsors only the best teams in the United States. With this endorsement, MSU's logo will be more visible throughout the world and will probably increase the university's licensing intake.

In 1999, MSU made more than $1 million in royalties, money that is used for academic and athletic scholarships. With the Nike Swoosh now backing green and white clothing, sales are almost guaranteed to rise, thus generating more money for MSU scholarships.

Nike isn't the only major apparel company to have human rights concerns. MSU's former sponsor, Reebok, had similar accusations levied against it. Nike stands out because it is the industry leader and thus commands more press.

If nothing else, MSU's contract with Nike should prompt students and the university to investigate Nike's labor practices. Creating awareness about fair labor conditions may be one of the best benefits signing with Nike has to offer the university.