May 18th, 2010

Team Sweat:

When I read the article below on the Nike-sponsored visit by university athletic directors to factories in Vietnam and China, I thought, “Is it really possible that someone running a major department at a major university could be this absolutely naive?”

The unfortunate answer is, “yes.”

Based on the article, here is a short list of questions for Purdue Athletic Director, Morgan Burke, to consider the next time Nike offers him a paid vacation to the east.

1. Did you speak to any workers off-site and with translators/advocates that they trust?
2. What are the current wages for the workers in these plants and what can those wages buy in the local marketplace?
3. Did you ask to speak with any of the THOUSANDS of workers that took part in 12 strikes at Nike factories in Vietnam this past year and find out why they did their work stoppages?
4. Did you ask the factory managers how much Nike pays on average for a pair of sneakers, what the cost breakdown is, how much is directed towards wages, and if the money Nike pays is adequate to provide a living wage?

Thanks Mr. Burke for providing Nike yet another opportunity to use Purdue’s name and reputation in their public relations scheme to mislead consumers, investors, and athletes.

Peace, Jim Keady
The Purdue University Exponent
Athletic director visits Nike factories
By Andrea Hammer
Publication Date: 02/01/2010

Purdue University AD, Morgan Burke

The Purdue athletic director spent 10 days in Vietnam and China touring factories and said he doesn’t feel he saw any “sweatshops.”

On Jan. 14, Morgan Burke left with a group of other university athletic directors on a Nike-sponsored trip to Nike’s factories in China and Vietnam. During their time, they saw five factories which Burke described as mostly “well-kept, organized and controlled.”

“In addition to actually seeing their product, you can take their corporate governance and responsibilities stuff that you can see on the Web and see how it plays out when you’re there in person,” Burke said.

Burke said several of the factories he toured employed upward of 20,000 people. He felt he was informed going into the trip because of his background in a steel company prior to his years at Purdue. Burke said all of the factories he visited in both Vietnam and China had operations that are similar to practices in the U.S. Things like company housing, on-site clinics and a grocery store for employees were not uncommon for employees of the factories.

While he was in Vietnam, he visited one factory that employed 20,000 people and produced shoes for Nike. While touring the factory, he said he used his background to look out for important safety issues.

“I looked for things like if they had hydraulic equipment – are there leaks? Are there safety guards on moving equipment? And it was all there; it was very well maintained,” he said.

At the same factory, he saw a high school where many of the workers were finishing their high school education. He explained some of the students would go to school from 8 a.m. to noon and then work the second shift from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.

For those that aren’t familiar with licensing agreements, Burke explained that there are two agreements between Purdue and Nike; one that allows Purdue to get their uniforms for athletic teams and another that allows Nike to produce Purdue apparel that’s sold in stores like Folletts.

Burke said this trip was planned prior to the problems that have arisen in Honduras, concerning two closed factories in which workers didn’t receive about $2.1 million in severance pay. He also said he didn’t believe this was a staged trip for those attending to see only what Nike intended for them to see.

“I don’t get the sense at all that I was brought over there to just see certain things; I had too much freedom to get out in the factory and walk around for that,” he said. “I think (Nike was) pretty proud of what they’d accomplished.”

Purdue Organization for Labor Equality member Gautam Kumaraswamy, a junior in engineering education, said in an e-mail he feels Burke’s trip was a nice vacation that didn’t have much to tell on the conditions of Nike’s workers.

“The consensus among all experts is that the only credible way to investigate conditions is through independent monitoring where visits to factories are unannounced, and an environment where workers are free to speak without fear or intimidation from their employers,” Kumaraswamy wrote. “The trip, in essence, was a Nike (public relations) stunt where they were able to ‘wow’ their clients, and Morgan would not have gotten anything near the true picture.”

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