Nike's Exploited Workers

by Medea Benjamin

During the 1970s, most Nike shoes were made in South Korea and Taiwan. When workers there gained new freedom to organize and wages began to rise, Nike looked for "greener pastures." It found Indonesia, where it started producing shoes in 1986.

Indonesia has a repressive regime that outlaws independent unions and sets the minimum wage at rock bottom- below the subsistence level for one person. In 1996, the entry level wage was a miserable $2.20 a day. A livable wage in Indonesia is about $4.25 a day.

Compare this with the pay of Nike's executives and celebrity promoters. CEO Philip Knight is worth over $5 billion. Michael Jordan gets $20 million a year to promote Nike sneakers. Jordan's compensation alone would be enough to raise Nike's Indonesian workforce out of poverty. Despite Indonesia's repressive government, workers in the shoe industry have been rebelling against low pay, forced overtime, abusive treatment by factory managers and lack of health and safety standards. When the foreign press publicized these abuses, Nike denied responsibility. It insisted that Nike did not own the factories, it contracted the work to independent sub-contractors.

Yet with mounting criticism, Nike relented and in 1992 came up with a Code of Conduct that set standards for its contractors. But abuses continued; workers demanding better conditions were dismissed and independent organizing was still prohibited.

Labor, religious and consumer groups have increased their anti-Nike organizing. They demand that Nike agree to independent monitoring of their factories by local human rights groups, that the company settle claims by workers who were unfairly dismissed that independent organizing be allowed in Nike factories, and that wages and working conditions be improved.

[For information on the Nike campaign call Global Exchange at (415) 255-7296.]

exerpted from the book

edited by Kevin Danaher

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Transnational Corporations & the Third World