Nike Boycott (interview) (fwd)

The Anarchives (
Fri, 11 Oct 1996 20:19:02 +0000 (GMT)

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** Topic: Nike Boycott (interview) **
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"Justice Do It Nike" calls for BOYCOTT
interview with Max White

See end of interview for information on how to support the Nike
campaign. Action packets are available for local committees
organizing leafleting events at Nike outlets. See (also posted
today on this conference) an article on the Nike campaign from
the current issue of the Campaign for Labor Rights newsletter.
Reprinting of this interview is welcomed.

[Max White is the coordinator of Justice Do It Nike. He was
interviewed on September 22, 1996 by Trim Bissell of Campaign for
Labor Rights. White talks about his experiences on the recent
Global Exchange delegation to Indonesia. He explains why his
organization is now calling for a boycott of Nike products.]

CLR: Describe Justice Do It Nike.

MW: We are a local group [Portland, Oregon] that focuses on
Nike's overseas workers, primarily in Indonesia. With one
exception, the members of this coalition are local grassroots
organizations: the local chapters of Amnesty International, East
Timor Action Network, Jobs with Justice and Peaceworks. We have
one non local member, Press for Change, because we felt it was
important to have an authority on Nike shoe production overseas.

CLR: You recently returned from a Global Exchange delegation to
Indonesia. Did you talk with Nike workers?

MW: One whole day of our trip was devoted to interviewing workers
about their working conditions, how long they had worked for Nike
contractors, how much they earned -- we saw pay stubs and that
sort of thing. We interviewed them away from the plants.

CLR: Nike claims that they pay their shoe workers in Indonesia
two to three times the minimum wage.

MW: The workers told us with absolutely no inconsistency that
they are forced to work up to twice as many hours a week as would
be normal. In other words, it would be like you having to work
80 hours per week and then your employer saying that he was
paying you twice as much as he was required to. So, yes, workers
are receiving more than -- I would not say "twice"; we never
found a single worker who was paid twice the Indonesian minimum
wage -- but we found many workers who were being paid more than
the minimum wage. But they were working way more than 40 hours
per week.

More than one worker reported that, if someone needed to go home
rather than work overtime, the managers would force them to wash
toilets and to do other menial tasks and they would actually
stand that worker up in front of the others and say: "Here is
somebody who doesn't care whether our factory keeps the Nike
contract" or "Here is a worker who doesn't care if Nike stays in
Indonesia." These people are very much moved by social and
family pressures. When they come out of the country and into the
city to work in the factories, their fellow workers are their
family. The contractors know that and they use the most coercive
forms of social pressure to make these workers put in horrendous

CLR: Ultimately, where do these pressures originate?

MW: My son and I interviewed a manager from a Reebok factory who
was more candid than the Nike managers, simply because Reebok is
not yet receiving such intense international criticism. He
pointed out that contractors must agree to a certain
percentage -- 12% -- as being the labor costs involved in making
shoes. If labor costs exceed that, the contractor has to absorb
those costs or has to force the workers to meet higher quotas.
So the Nikes of the world call the shots. They put the
subcontractors in a position where they then have to force the
workers to put in long hours of overtime. And many
subcontractors do not pay the workers for every hour of overtime.
We frequently heard stories where a worker would work, say, 6
hours of overtime and get paid 4 or work 8 hours overtime and get
paid for 6.

Workers are given permission by their families -- most of them
are very young -- to go to the big city and work if they will
send back money. Nike claims that the workers are saving money.
What we discovered was that the workers are essentially starving
themselves so they can send home some of the money they make by
working those long hours.

Very few of these workers earn enough to have a family. If they
come into the city to work for a corporation, they certainly
couldn't have a child on those wages. Then they go back to their
villages oftentimes at least as poor as they left.

CLR: Why do they return to their villages?

MW: A very large number of people in Indonesia have at one time
or another been part of some kind of labor strike or labor
protest. They end up being blacklisted and unable to work in the
industrial sector. Also, people get past the optimum age. For a
30-year-old woman to get a factory job, she has to bribe someone
because they much prefer younger women who are easily

CLR: That is the issue, rather than the much-touted eye-hand
coordination of younger workers?

MW: The corporations say that young people have superior eye-hand
coordination. But it doesn't take much coordination to punch a
button or to do many of these operations. The fact of the matter
is that young women are more easily controllable and that's why
they want them. After the women reach a point at which they
realize that they should not be exploited, that's when they are
no longer of use to these corporations.

CLR: Approximately 80% of Nike shoe production workers in
Indonesia are women. Are they subject to sexual harassment?

CLR: While they may be subject to somewhat less sexual harassment
than a few years ago, there is no question but that a significant
level of sexual harassment still goes on. The most pervasive
form reported to us was that the -- if you will -- prettiest
workers are assigned as office help for some of the contractors
and the phrase I heard was that they are harassed and harassed
until they become pregnant. Once pregnant, they are sent back
into the islands to their family.

CLR: Nike boasts about the benefits they offer. What benefits
would an injured worker receive?

MW: There is an enormous dichotomy between Indonesian law and
practice. There are laws on the books that provide for workers
to be compensated for on-the-job injuries. However, I spoke with
a worker who had lost some of her fingers, had them crushed in a
machine at a Nike factory. The compensation that worker received
-- total for the loss of her fingers -- was $25. Because of her
injury, she no longer is employable.

CLR: Did you tour Nike factories?

MW: Our delegation was refused entry to every Nike-contracted
factory in Indonesia. We were told that the so-called
independent contractors could not let us in unless Nike gave us
written permission. We asked for that permission before we left
for Indonesia and 6 or 8 times while we were in the country. At
no point would Nike permit us into their own so-called
independent contractors' factories. However, Nike brought two of
their own board members over and gave them an orchestrated tour
of two of their factories. I also know of people who have gotten
in as tourists. I spoke with one who described how, anytime she
wanted to talk with a worker, a manager would be right behind
her, listening in on every word the workers said.

CLR: Did you meet with Nike representatives?

MW: On our last day in Indonesia, a spokesperson for Nike finally
accepted our invitation to meet with us. After giving us three
or four different version of Nike's supposed intentions with
regard to our concerns, he asked us for a moratorium on any
criticism of Nike. It was clear that he was concerned about
media coverage of the Nike shareholder meeting. He refused to
make any commitment in writing even though a number of the
delegates said that, if Nike was promising a quid pro quo for our
cessation of criticism, there should be something on paper. So
he did come to us, but only for the purpose of damage control.
And he went on -- I timed him -- for 48 minutes uninterrupted
giving us the Nike PR line. When people attempted to ask
questions, he suddenly had to go. While we were in the country,
we also tried to contact Ernest & Young, whom Nike has been
holding up as their independent monitor. Ernest & Young refused
to meet with our delegation. Refused even to answer our phone

CLR: Was there a discrepancy between what the Nike rep told you
and what you heard from other people?

MW: Certainly. On the issue of workers' ability to organize, for
example, he stated that Nike took no position and did not prevent
workers from organizing. The New York Times, the Washington
Post, the Oregonian -- every newspaper I know of -- has reported
that the Indonesian military suppresses any kind of labor
organizing. And we were told by knowledgeable people in
Indonesia that subcontractors are promised that there will be a
military contingent no more than 10 minutes away to handle labor
problems. Any subcontractor who is making shoes in Indonesia is
promised military support and they pay for it by what the
Indonesians call "invisible costs," bribery.

CLR: Your organization is now calling for a boycott of Nike

MW: Our campaign has gone on for about two years. We have
consistently stated that we are not boycotting Nike products,
that we are asking Nike to accept independent monitoring of their
overseas factories, which is a very reasonable request that's
been met by The Gap in El Salvador. Nike has had ample
opportunity to comply. I understand now that they have a lot
more to hide than even I had thought. I am convinced that Nike
does not have the slightest intention of allowing independent
monitoring. Justice Do It Nike is no longer willing to continue
trying in vain to engage Nike in dialogue. There has to be a
serious escalation. A boycott is the logical next step.

CLR: Have you consulted with others on this decision?

MW: While in Indonesia, I raised the issue with the primary
nongovernmental organization that has asked Nike to allow
independent monitoring. The representative of this NGO said that
he was completely behind what we wanted to do, that actually we
were late in announcing a boycott. Also while in Indonesia, my
son and I did all we could to establish ongoing channels of
communication with the workers themselves. They were very
pleased that people in the United States were taking up their
cause. They trusted what we were doing and we promised that we
would let them know our plans.

CLR: Could a boycott cause a loss of jobs in Indonesia?

MW: Based on what I learned in Indonesia, I am convinced that
Nike and Reebok are on the point of pulling out of Indonesia and
going to Vietnam, just as they pulled out of Korea and went to
Indonesia and China in the early 90's. Nike and Reebok are now
doing only month-to-month contracting in Indonesia because they
are preparing to leave. One reason we feel obliged to increase
the pressure on Nike, through a boycott, is to try to prevent
Nike from continuing its cut-and-run policy whenever the minimum
wage in a given country even begins to approach what the workers
require for a reasonable life.

CLR: Nike sales and profits are skyrocketing.

MW: Few boycotts have seriously hurt sales of transnational
corporations. But the transnational corporations like Nike fear
boycotts and see them as a public relations disaster. So far,
Nike has taken advantage of Justice Do It Nike by taking pains to
point out that we are not boycotting them. Our boycott by itself
will not significantly hurt Nike sales. On the other hand,
progressives have a lot of history that a boycott is one of the
most effective grassroots tools to convince these corporations
that ultimately -- ultimately -- their bottom line will be

Contact information:

To receive an action packet for leafleting actions at Nike
outlets, contact Campaign for Labor Rights:
(541) 344-5410. Web site:

Justice Do It Nike: (503) 292-8168

Press for Change: (201) 768-8120

** End of text from cdp:headlines **

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