(en) Nike: 2 interesting items

Shawn Ewald (shawn@wilshire.net)
Sat, 25 Oct 1997 16:44:14 -0700

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Sat, 25 Oct 1997 12:50:34 -0700 (PDT) To: Campaign for Labor Rights E-mail list <clr@igc.org> From: Mike Rhodes <clr2@igc.apc.org> Subject: Nike: 2 interesting items

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

Following are two interesting items about Nike

1) As Nike PR flacks raced back and forth across the country in recent weeks to put out the fires of protest, they handed out thick folders of press releases and other disinformation to repair the company's much-damaged reputation. Probably, the packets varied a bit according to which materials the Nike PR department had on hand at the moment. In at least some cases, the packets included an article (reprinted in color), produced by Jardine Fleming Research, a branch of Jardine Fleming International Securities Limited. The title suggests Nike's oft-stated and doubtful claim that the company's sneaker factories have led the way for development in Asia: "Tracking NIKE's Footprints across Asia: NIKE as a leading indicator of economic success." There is an amazing subtext to this article - amazing when you consider that Nike itself reprinted the piece in answer to its critics. Consider the following passage:

"Nike likes a strong government If we delve deeper into where NIKE has produced sneakers and its comments about political stability, we notice that NIKE tends to favour strong governments. For example, NIKE was a major producer in both Korea and Taiwan when these countries were largely under military rule. It currently favours China, where the communists and only two men have led the country since 1949, and Indonesia where President Suharto has been in charge since 1967. The communist party is still very much alive in Vietnam. Likewise, NIKE never did move into the Philippines in a big way in the 1980s, a period when democracy there flourished. Thailand's democracy movement of 1992 also corresponded to NIKE's downgrading of production in that country."

That passage sheds some light on what is meant by "stringent labour laws" in the following:

"NIKE management found that it was very hard to make sneakers in America, primarily because of much higher labour costs and more stringent labour laws."

Ah, if only we had a "strong" government like China's, we wouldn't have to worry about those stringent laws.

2) An article from the Washington Post

The Trouble With Role Models

By Nat Hentoff October 25, 1997 The Washington Post

In New York recently, a coalition of young people from 11 settlement houses let it be known that they would discard their old Nike sneakers at a Fifth Avenue shoe store, The Sultanate of Swoosh.

As David Gonzalez reported in the New York Times, "They are part of a growing movement that has criticized Nike for failing to pay workers in Asian factories a living wage -- about $3 a day in Indonesia, for example -- while charging style-setting urban teenagers upward of $100 for the shoes."

As one of the protesters, Dulani Blake, explained: "Nike goes to different countries so people can work for cheap."

Meanwhile, Andrew Young, a hero of the civil rights movement and former ambassador to the United Nations, has completed a report -- commissioned by Nike -- that does say there is room for improvement in the working conditions at factories manufacturing Nike footwear. But his overall findings are so positive that Nike has celebrated the result of Andrew Young's Asian journey in newspaper ads.

When I called a publicity manager for Nike, she said, "Why, who could possibly question Andrew Young's integrity?"

In the Sept. 8 and 15 New Republic, Stephen Glass -- a journalist whose work I have respected since his college days -- did considerable damage to Mr. Young's credibility ("The Young and the Feckless").

Among the many carefully detailed omissions and distortions in the Young report is the highly embarrassing fact that Young, in talking with Vietnamese workers, used Nike translators. As Stephen Glass notes, Garry Trudeau -- in his widely syndicated comic strip, Doonesbury -- presented a Nike translator rendering "the [Asian] workers' pleas of mistreatment into joyous reports of a labor paradise."

Lest this growing disrespect for Nike become a groundswell, a Nike spokesman visited a New York neighborhood center where the local sneaker protest among kids began. The public relations professional declared: "Nobody has done more than Nike in terms of leadership." He said this without benefit of translation.

The kids were not impressed. It might be a truly educational trip for Andrew Young to visit some of these youth centers. The kids might ask him why, in his report, he did not look at all into whether Nike pays its workers the home country's minimum wage.

Not many youngsters may know of Andrew Young's previous civil rights record, but Michael Jordan is a superhero to kids throughout the nation.

After 13 years as a very effective salesman for Nike sneakers, Jordan has been elevated at the firm. There is a new Nike sub-brand, the JORDAN brand, for which kids will be saving their $20 bills. For his new division, Jordan has recruited other professional basketball stars who, Nike says, represent his "core basketball values."

In the Sept. 9 USA Today, Jordan was asked what he thinks -- as a new corporate executive -- of the growing attacks on Nike because of the working conditions in its Asian factories. Jordan said: "I would certainly investigate it, then deal with what the problems are. Right now, they're not doing anything improper or illegal." Could the White House's Lanny Davis be moonlighting as a counselor to Michael Jordan?

Last year, Jesse Jackson, a colleague of Andrew Young in the Martin Luther King Jr. days, spoke during a Tokyo press conference about the ethical responsibilities of being a role model for America's young. As reported in the Journal of Commerce, "Mr. Jackson said athletes like Mr. Jordan `must be part of the dialogue and be made aware of the conduct' of their sponsors. Today's athletes, he added, should get involved like former tennis great Arthur Ashe, who honored the boycott of South Africa."

Young and Jordan, however, are role models for the free marketplace.

Nike, meanwhile, is issuing further glossy reports about the Asian factories. On Oct. 16, the company released preliminary studies by an MBA student team from Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business. Michael Jordan will be glad to know that "Nike contract factory workers can meet basic needs and, in addition, have income for discretionary spending or, in some cases, savings."

This Dartmouth study was commissioned -- surprise! -- by Nike.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee and the Asia Monitor Resource Centre have released quite another report -- this one on Chinese factories producing Nike goods: "Factories consistently violate minimum wage laws; workers who become pregnant are often fired in violation of China's labor law granting workers maternity leave." Also, "gloves are not given to all workers -- seven of whom have lost their fingers."

So much for their hoop dreams.

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