(en) Campus activism: Nike Q&A

Shawn Ewald (shawn@wilshire.net)
Tue, 2 Dec 1997 08:30:58 -0700

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Tue, 2 Dec 1997 06:25:03 -0800 (PST) To: CLR All Campaigns e-mail list <clr@igc.org> From: Mike Rhodes <clr2@igc.apc.org> Subject: Campus activism: Nike Q&A

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QUESTION: What is our goal?

Our goal is to put pressure on Nike so that the company will see that it has to engage in a serious clean-up of its labor practices.

On campuses where students are working on broader sweatshop issues, the goal is also to put pressure on other companies (such as Guess) to clean up their labor practices.

On some campuses, student groups are working with UNITE to get their universities to commit to no-sweat purchasing agreements. Because a lot of work is involved in getting a solid agreement with real teeth, at this time UNITE is limiting this approach to a small number of campuses.

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QUESTION: What is the single most useful thing that we can do to help our movement to grow on campus?

Disseminating new, well-documented information is the best way to reinforce your credibility and to keep this issue alive on your campus. Please publicize our labor alerts service and re-post our alerts to your own campus email list.

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QUESTION: Are we having any effect on Nike?

Yes! Because of the pressure brought to bear on Nike: the company's contractors now tend to pay at least the minimum in Indonesia; there is less physical violence against Nike's workers in Vietnam; the company is committed to a shift to less toxic glues; and Nike is using less child labor in Pakistan. These are important improvements. Nike has yet to make really fundamental changes, such as allowing independent monitors into its factories. However, Nike clearly understands that it has a public relations problem of major proportions. It is especially worried about campus activism. Nike PR teams have been racing from campus to campus, trying to put out the fires. The day is coming when Nike management will realize that the only viable public relations maneuver is to do right by the company's overseas workforce.

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QUESTION: Is it realistic to hope that any school will cancel its contract with Nike?

Highly unlikely.

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QUESTION: Why organize around the Nike athletic contracts if we can't get those contracts canceled?

Nike's contracts with college and university athletic departments make the sweatshop issue very personal for students. It is offensive to realize that one's own school has sold out its principles in order to receive blood money. Organizing around the contracts does put pressure on Nike because more students/faculty/staff learn about Nike in the course of an anti-contract campaign.

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QUESTION: Won't we lose credibility if we organize around a struggle (canceling the Nike contract) that we can't win?

You need to be honest with people. Tell them up-front that you are opposing the contract in order to put pressure on Nike so that the company will reform its labor practices. This is a good example of thinking globally and acting locally.

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QUESTION: Is there any way that we can influence our own school through organizing around the Nike contract?

Yes! Even though you don't have the clout to get your school to cancel a major existing contract, you have a good chance of influencing your school's choices of future contracts. You could use the Nike contract as a basis for demanding that a review board (including student human rights representatives) be set up to decide on future contracts before your school enters into financial relationships with other morally questionable companies.

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QUESTION: What are the most important points to make about the Nike contract?

1) Your school is not being neutral: By promoting the Nike name, your school has aligned itself with a company which is synonymous with sweatshops.

2) Nike money is blood money: The reason that Nike has so much surplus cash to throw around is that it does not pay its Asian workers a living wage.

3) Legalized corruption: Find out how much money from the contract will be going to certain staff of the athletic department.

4) Free speech: Check out the contract for sections which forbid staff and students from doing or saying anything "inconsistent with Nike endorsement."

5) Corporate intrusion: Public universities are rapidly becoming corporate institutions. "Who pays the piper calls the tune." Similar concerns apply to private schools where academic content is being influenced by corporate sponsorship.

6) Academic standards of inquiry: University administrators are relying on Nike as their only source on information: "We have asked Nike about these concerns and we are completely satisfied with their answers."

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QUESTION: How can our athletic department survive without the Nike contract?

Advertizing is the science of creating perceived needs. Schools got along fine for many decades without Nike contracts. Why is there suddenly a "need" for this extra money? Why do certain staff in the athletic department suddenly "need" to have their salaries dramatically increased because of these contracts? Would the core mission of the school collapse if Nike were not pumping money into the athletic department?

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QUESTION: Should we be concerned about causing a backlash, such as the "Support the Swoosh" groups springing up on some campuses?

You don't have to win everyone to your side, not even a majority. As long as a growing number of students on your campus become aware of -- and vocal about -- Nike's labor practices, you will be exerting enormous pressure on the company. You have influence far beyond anything that your numbers would suggest. As for the "Support the Swoosh" groups organized by Nike's campus shills, their moral ugliness can only win you new converts.

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QUESTION: Are athletic contracts the only good focus for campus activism on the Nike issue?

You also can try to get the campus bookstore not to carry Nike products - or any sweatshirts made in sweatshops. If the bookstore is owned by the student government, this is a particularly winnable goal. Another focus for activism is the school's endowment fund. You could pressure the school to divest itself of stock in Nike and other sweatshop corporations. You could seek to have your school adopt a policy of not accepting research grants from Nike and other companies notorious for their use of sweatshops. Students at Duke are working with their school on a no-sweat purchasing policy.

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QUESTION: When Nike public relations team comes to campus, how can we prove that the claims of human rights critics are better substantiated than Nike's claims?

A core demand of the Nike campaign is that the company should allow truly independent external monitoring of its factories - by non-profit local human rights and religious organizations. That would be a basis for deciding what really happens inside Nike factories - and a basis for correcting problems when they are identified. Nike refuses to allow such monitoring. What is Nike hiding? Why should we believe the claims of a company which does not allow independent monitors to verify what is happening?

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QUESTION: What about Nike's claim that its jobs are highly sought-after and that people are lined up at the gate, hoping to be employed in the Nike factories?

The lines at the gates reflect the desperation of unemployment. Once hired, Nike workers soon tend to resent their wages, forced overtime and working conditions. Even in Indonesia, which is a highly repressive country, thousands of workers Nike frequently go on strike. Scores, if not hundreds, of Nike workers in Indonesia have been fired for protesting. Nike has never lifted a finger on their behalf.

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QUESTION: Do you think that Nike ever will reform enough to satisfy its critics?

It isn't Nike's critics who need to be satisfied - it's Nike's workers. We are committed to continuing this campaign until Nike's Asian workers tell us that our job is done.

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QUESTION: Aren't some of the other companies, like Reebok, just as bad as Nike?

Yes, we intend to reform the entire athletic shoe industry -- starting with Nike. Nike is the market leader. Nike also was the leader in exporting its jobs to the countries with the most vulnerable workers. It makes moral and strategic sense to be starting with Nike. Once Nike agrees to fundamental improvements in its labor practices, the other athletic shoe companies will be soon to follow.

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