Tell Nike to Just Do It

Much attention has been paid to Nike's exploitation of workers in  economically strugglingcountries like Indonesia, Vietnam, and China. Although Nike claims they are not responsible for much of what goes on in these sweatshops because they work through subcontractors and thus are not directly involved, the corporation has shown great irresponsibility and ignorance in dealing with the matter.  In fact, Nike CEO Philip Knight's arrogance in refusing responsibility for labor practices has made him an easy target for public outrage. 

Nike has recently released a big advertising campaign in an effort to counter its negative image as a human rights violator.  One ad proclaims "It's True.  We routinely ignore the minimum age requirements at our factories."  While it may now be true that Nike hires workers only 18 years or older, what the ad doesn't say is that Nike used to hire workers less than 18 AND that they only introduced this new policy under intense public demand.  (This "responsible act" costs Nike nothing--there's plenty of workers over 18 who need jobs in economically depressed countries.)  Another full-page ad announces "Good Morning Vietnam!" and congratulates  Nike for its micro-loan program.  Here Nike will match $75 contributions from private individuals to provide "serious venutre capital" to Vietnamese citizens.  Nike claims they've issues 3200 such loans as of Nov. 1999.  Nice try, Nike, but that's only $2400 in loans.  How much did you spend on the ads trumpeting them?  Clearly, Nike is worried about its public image.  If it worried as much about its workers, industry-wide change might really happen.

Countless reports show the overseas workers to be underpaid, malnourished, and often physically and emotionally abused. Although Nike contends that they are paying above Indonesian minimum wage, the $2.36 a day workers earn is not even enough to buy three simple meals, estimated at $2.10. That's not even considering the minimum $6.00 a month rent, clothing, and hygienic products every worker needs.  While many Nike factories provide subsidized meals, workers could afford their own meals if they were paid a living wage. Jeff Keaty, a U.S. coach who was fired for refusing to wear a uniform with the Nike logo, is in Jakarta, Indonesia trying to live on Nike factory wages.  To learn more about working conditions there, see his report at

These miserable working conditions and exploitative wages seem especially shocking considering that Nike is one of the richest corporations in the world, making Philip Knight, Nike president, the fifth richest man in America. A CBS News report found Indonesian Nike workers making a mere 20-cents a hour, while Mr. Knight's net worth is estimated to be 5.3-billion dollars, as seen on Forbes 400 Richest List for 1996.

Nike's hierarchy of production costs is astounding. According to the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the 20-million dollars which Nike paid Michael Jordan to endorse products for one year is equal to the amount they paid Indonesian workers to produce 19 million pairs of shoes, many valued at as much as $120 a pair. 

Nike contends that despite low wages, conditions are otherwise satisfactory. Yet the phrase "to Nike" has been coined to mean, "to take out one's frustrations on a fellow worker" in the factories, where stories of abuse and sexual harassment are commonplace. At a plant in Vietnam, a supervisor hit fifteen workers in a row in retaliation for poor sewing. The incident left two women hospitalized, and great emotional scars on every worker involved. The supervisor, Madame Baeck, was allowed to leave the country after the incident, despite conviction. Other incidents of abuse have since arisen: a woman's mouth taped shut for talking during working hours; 45 women forced to kneel on the ground with their hands in the air for 25 minutes straight; workers forced to stand in the sun for long periods of time as part of a heat punishment; and a Korean supervisor found guilty of molesting female workers.  When a reporter from 48 Hours questioned a Nike spokesperson about this incident, he said he'd never heard of it, despite the fact it headlined Vietnamese newspapers.

These are only the incidents to make headlines in America, despite attempts to keep workers silent. We, as American consumers, have not only the responsibility to stop these conditions, but also the choice of what athletic wear to buy. Boycott Nike products and demand American made shoes. Write to Nike and its spokespeople--the two biggest currently being Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods--demanding change. For although Nike has taken minimal and mostly symbolic (as opposed to revolutionary) steps, there is still great change needed. Consumers must hold manufacturers and retailers responsible for the conditions under which products--and profits--are made. 


Write to Philip Knight, CEO, Nike, at:

Nike World Headquarters
One Bowerman Drive
Beaverton, OR 97005

Or FAX him at: 503-671-6300

Urge Michael Jordan not to endorse Nike products. Write to him at:

Michael Jordan
c/o CLUW
1126 16th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
Take Action against Nike at the Boycott Nike website.
For information about the UNITE campaign against Nike go to

For investigation on Nike conditions in China, see the National Labor Committee's report at

For more information about "Boycott Nike" contact

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