(en) Oct. 18 Nike protest analysis

Shawn Ewald (shawn@wilshire.net)
Fri, 24 Oct 1997 00:31:51 -0700

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Thu, 23 Oct 1997 21:30:55 -0700 (PDT) To: Campaign for Labor Rights E-mail list <clr@igc.org> From: Mike Rhodes <clr2@igc.apc.org> Subject: Oct. 18 Nike protest analysis

Labor Alerts/Labor News a service of Campaign for Labor Rights 1247 "E" Street SE, Washington, DC 20003 <clr@igc.apc.org> (541) 344-5410 http://www.compugraph.com/clr

International Nike Mobilization: Analysis [See accompanying alert for reports from local committees.]


By the time October 18th had arrived, we knew of protests planned in 13 countries: Australia, Canada, England, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.

In the U.S., there were activities planned in at least 28 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

Around the world, there were at least 84 communities and campuses which had actions in support of the rights of Nike workers. This was truly a global protest!


Mainstream media coverage included an Associated Press story about the Portland demonstration, a story on the front page of the New York Times sports section, a story in some editions of USA Today and local print and electronic media coverage in many communities.

But probably the coverage which reached the largest number of people was that Gary Trudeau carried a week-long series on the October 18 protests in his syndicated Doonesbury comic strip. Trudeau has taken on Nike several times in the past year. This time, he explicitly mentioned the October 18 protests throughout the week.


An internal Nike memo (released by Justice. Do It Nike! in Portland) showed top executives strategizing how to diminish the effect of the international Nike mobilization. During the weeks prior to the 18th, Nike had public relations teams racing back and forth across the United States. Nike held press conferences, hosted a conference call with college newspaper editors from all over the U.S., held another conference call with writers and editors for municipal newspapers, took out full-page ads in college newspapers, had representatives handing out "Informed Consumer Updates" at football games and visited several campuses.

As the above list suggests (this was confirmed by a highly-placed confidential source within Nike), the company is especially concerned about the campuses where students are protesting contracts between their universities' athletics departments and Nike. Because of the contacts we built up through this mobilization, Campaign for Labor Rights now is in touch with students activists at a number of these schools, including: the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), Penn State, the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Florida State University (Tallahassee), the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), the University of Oregon (Eugene) and Colorado University (Boulder).


Nike has taken some steps toward cleaning up its labor practices. Each improvement has been a direct result of pressure from the Nike campaign - whose representatives the company vilifies. It is positive that Nike has set up a stitching center in Pakistan to prevent the use of child labor in the production of soccer balls - even though the company refuses to allow independent monitors to inspect its stitching center. It is positive that Nike is mostly paying the minimum wage in Indonesia - even though that is not a living wage. It is positive that Nike is distributing wallet-size versions of its code to workers - even though the wording on the cards is vague and there is no adequate monitoring system in place in Nike's factories.

These and other modest steps on Nike's part demonstrate that the company is not immune to public pressure. In the past 13-14 months, Nike has dramatically increased its public relations efforts to try to counter the human rights campaign. In the weeks leading up to the international mobilization, the pace of PR activities picked up noticeably.

The fact that Nike is putting much more energy into disseminating misinformation in response to the human rights campaign is a very positive sign. Nike clearly understands that it has a major problem on its hands. The company is going through a process of testing whether PR maneuvers can solve its problem. We firmly believe that Nike management eventually will realize that the only viable PR maneuver is to come to terms with the core demands of the Nike human rights campaign:

* Pay a living wage based on an 8-hour day * Stop requiring forced overtime * Treat workers with respect * Allow workers to join a union and bargain collectively * Cooperate with monitoring by local nonprofit human rights and religious organizations * Redress the claims of workers fired for seeking decent pay and working conditions


Two days before the international mobilization, with great fanfare, Nike released in summary form a wage-and-needs study of Nike workers in Indonesia and Vietnam. According to the study, Nike workers are so well paid that they are buying telephones, VCRs and motorbikes and still have money left over to send home to family members. Certain points are worth raising about this study. [Thanks to Max White, Jeff Ballinger and Medea Benjamin, all of whom contributed to this analysis.]

* Nike released a summary of the study just two days before the international mobilization but refused to allow access to the study itself until two weeks later. There is no way to discuss the validity of the methodology without seeing the actual study. If this is such a great study, why is Nike afraid to have it examined while it's still a hot news item?

* The authors of the study (faculty at the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College) also conducted a similar study for Disney - with similar findings exonerating the Disney company of underpaying its Haitian workforce. Subsequent investigation found the Disney report to be - if not outright fraudulent, then incompetent at best.

* Although Nike clearly hopes to buttress the credibility of this report through the fact that it was done by academics at Dartmouth, in fact releasing and publicizing a summary in advance of publishing the complete research study is in strong violation of accepted academic standards.

* The prime source of country income data is the World Bank, which also just happens to be one of the prime agents to causing poverty in the Third World.

* The study seems not to take into account the extent to which forced overtime influences workers' yearly wages.

* The study considers money sent home to families to be discretionary income even though an International Labor Organization (ILO) study demonstrated that Nike workers literally will starve themselves to the point of malnutrition in order to be able to send money home to family members.


On October 16, Nike released the summary of the Dartmouth study, purporting to prove that Nike workers are thrilled with all the money they receive from their job. However, on October 13-15, 6,000 Nike workers went on strike in Indonesia to protest a Nike contractor's attempt to cheat them out of legally-owed severance pay. In April of this year, 10,000 Indonesian Nike workers and 3,000 Vietnamese Nike workers went on strike. Whom are you going to believe: some faculty and MBA students from Dartmouth or 19,000 Nike workers?


Because of the success of the October 18 mobilization, Campaign for Labor Rights is calling for another international Nike day of action in April of 1998 - the exact date still to be determined. We will organizing that event from a point significantly ahead of where we started organizing for the October action. We now have contact information for a global network of national and local activists who are ready to show their support for the rights of Nike's overseas workforce. We expect that network to grow between now and April. Like the October event, the emphasis in April will be on local activities.

And, of course, Nike leafleting actions between now and April are most welcome!

Campaign for Labor Rights is pulling together an alliance of activists on the campuses where Nike has contracts. Activists at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), where Reebok has a contract, also have expressed an interest in working with this alliance. In many cases, these activists already have been engaged in the Guess campaign and other anti-sweatshop work through the excellent outreach efforts of the UNITE textile workers union.

Campaign for Labor Rights urges this existing network of activists to reach out to other constituencies in your communities: people of color, youth in the schools, communities of faith, organized labor.

Campaign for Labor Rights also urges local activists to broaden your involvement in the sweatshop issue, if you have not already done so. Consider some of the other important labor rights campaigns now needing our support: the Hyundai boycott, the Guess boycott, the Disney campaign, the Gardenburger boycott. During the next few months, the Holiday of Conscience and the National Labor Committee's petition drive are organizing activities not to be missed. Please contact us if you would like to know how to participate in these other struggles.

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