"My first thought, as I held those shoes in my hands, was pride at how well-made they were and that I had a part in making such fine shoes. And then I put them on my feet. They felt so good! Four years I worked in the factory, and until now I never had a pair of Nikes on my feet. We could not even think of buying them at the wages we received. And then I was very sad when I thought of the conditions under which they are made. And angry." To purchase a pair of the shoes she makes, A Nike worker would have to devote every penny from two to three months of her paychecks."
The following article was taken from the current issue of the Campaign for Labor Rights newsletter. Reprinting of this article is welcomed.
Boycott NIKE - Just DO It!
At the same time that the shoe giant is posting record profits, Nike management have been scrambling to repair damage to their company's image because of an international campaign drawing attention to labor rights abuses in Nike production facilities. Campaign for Labor Rights is a member of the Working Group on Nike, an alliance of U.S. and Canadian organizations which have come together to win justice for Nike production workers. In this alliance, we work especially closely with Press for Change and Justice Do It Nike. Organizations in other countries around the world also have Nike campaigns. In September, representatives of 57 organizations from around the world met in Germany to discuss codes of conduct, the role and responsibilities of transnational corporations and strategies and campaigns to protect workers' rights worldwide; a prime topic of discussion was campaigns in support of workers in the sports shoe industry. In June, the National Organization of Women (NOW) passed a resolution condemning the global sweatshop; Nike was the only company mentioned by name.
Nike CEO Phil Knight put in an appearance at the White House rose garden for a photo opportunity with Kathie Lee Gifford and President Clinton. Nike will be part of a business coalition to develop standards for a "no sweat" clothing label, certifying that garments bearing the label were made under fair and legal labor conditions. Doubts about the effectiveness of the proposed label increased when Clinton and Labor Secretary Reich included Nike, a company which refuses to clean up its own act, on a commission to draw up standards for the industry.
As another part of its PR blitz, Nike hurriedly joined Business for Social Responsibility, after spurning the group's offers of membership for two years. As far as we have been able to determine [BSR apparently does not make this information public], there are no requirements for admission to BSR. The BS in BSR could be read more ways than one.
Nike also announced that they were having discussions with the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights. An inquiry to that group revealed that when Nike tried to cozy up to them, the RFK people told Nike that they need to talk with the Working Group on Nike because the members of WGON are credible human rights organizations.
Meanwhile, Nike continues to refuse dialogue with its critics. CLR and the other member organizations of the Working Group intend to convince Nike that it has a problem which cannot be solved by its PR department. This month, leafleting actions and demonstrations took place at Nike outlets in cities in the U.S., Canada and parts of Europe. Most were on Sept. 14, two days before the Nike annual stockholders meeting voted down a shareholder resolution that the company should permit truly independent monitoring of its factories.
Also in September, a delegation to Indonesia met with nongovernmental activists as well as government officials (and a Nike spokesperson who talked at the group for 40 minutes and showed no interest in real dialogue). Delegates included representatives from the Working Group, the AFL-CIO and other concerned organizations. They learned firsthand from workers about pay and conditions in Nike shoe factories and they deepened their understanding of the context of repression faced by union activists. Nike and other transnationals seek out low-wage countries and highly repressive governments. The two go hand-in- hand because repression prevents Nike's workers from organizing for better wages and conditions. Although Nike has not openly supported Indonesia's bloody occupation of East Timor, Nike investment helps to prop up the Indonesian dictatorship and Nike contractors call in the military to intimidate and detain labor organizers.
The delegation was sponsored by Global Exchange, which also, in July, brought Cicih Sukaesih on a speaking tour of five U.S. cities. Cicih was fired four years ago from a Nike shoe factory in Indonesia and has since been blacklisted. Her case was upheld by every Indonesian court which has reviewed it -- remarkable in a country as repressive as hers -- and is now before the Indonesian Supreme Court. Nike has never urged its contractors to reinstate Cicih nor the more than 60 other workers documented as having been fired illegally for their union activities in the shoe factories.
Cicih's appearances were widely covered in the media and brought a human face to the Nike campaign. The rally for Cicih at Chicago's Nike Town featured a strong contingent of Union Summer activists who roared out chants they had prepared. During her Chicago visit, someone showed Cicih a Nike poster: "Go ahead," the poster proclaimed, "demand a raise. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose." She assumed that the poster had been printed by someone in support of Nike workers. Amazed when the truth was explained to her, she said, "They would NEVER say that on their ads in Indonesia. There, they just put the name, Nike, and the picture of the sports star. There is no text in the Indonesian ads. When we worked in the factory, we thought `Just do it!' meant: `Work harder and don't question authority.'"
In Portland, Oregon in one of the most moving moments of her tour, Cicih slipped into the Nike Town store as demonstrators were gathering in front. Upon emerging, she related the emotions she had felt in the store's shoe department: "My first thought, as I held those shoes in my hands, was pride at how well-made they were and that I had a part in making such fine shoes. And then I put them on my feet. They felt so good! Four years I worked in the factory, and until now I never had a pair of Nikes on my feet. We could not even think of buying them at the wages we received. And then I was very sad when I thought of the conditions under which they are made. And angry." To purchase a pair of the shoes she makes, A Nike worker would have to devote every penny from two to three months of her paychecks.