THE AUSTRALIAN: One-man crusade to end Nike sweatshops pays off

January 21st, 2012

By Peter Alford
The Australian
January 21, 2012

Anti-sweatshop activist Jim Keady talks to workers at PT SM Global factory. Picture: Revaldi

JIM Keady, anti-sweatshop activist, revolutionary Christian, former semi-pro goalie and continuing soccer nut, first tangled with Nike Inc 14 years ago.

As an assistant coach with St John’s University national championship soccer team — and a graduate theology student — he refused to wear the company’s emblem when the New York Catholic university accepted a $US3.5 million Nike sponsorship.

Keady’s coaching contract wasn’t renewed and his $11m freedom-of-expression lawsuit against Nike and St John’s was thrown out of court in 2000.

But the Swoosh also gained an implacable foe who last week dealt its expensively groomed Corporate Social Responsibility image a nasty blow.

Keady’s lone-hand activism over more than a decade against worker exploitation by Indonesian Nike supplier companies culminated in a ground-breaking agreement for PT Nikomas Gemilang to repay 4437 production workers Rp8.1 billion ($869,100) for almost 600,000 hours of forced, unpaid overtime.

Bambang Wirahyoso, chairman of the National Workers Union that Keady coached through the 11-month Nikomas campaign, described it as “potential shock treatment for Indonesia’s labour movement, the victory precedent”.

Bambang says more than 300,000 Indonesian workers, two-thirds women, are employed by contractors making globally branded footwear and clothing, in a system controversially pioneered by Nike from the 1970s in developing countries.

This week Keady spoke to workers at PT Sinar Timur in Tanggerang west of Jakarta, who told him they’d also been subjected to the practice known as jam molor (time delayed) and bullying. Keady had lived for a month in 2000 in the industrial satellite city with Nike production workers.

That sealed his commitment to a cause he now propagates through the Team Sweat campaign, funded mostly by fees from his “Behind the Swoosh” campus lecture tours back home.

“I am a one man operation on an $US80,000-a-year budget to take care of everything, going up against a $US20 billion corporation.”

Keady accuses supplier companies of wage-cheating, union-busting and routine bullying and Nike of refusing to take responsibility for workers in a system it created.

But that isn’t just Nike, he readily concedes. Many global footwear and clothing brands use Indonesian contract factories.

Nikomas’s massive footwear plant in Banten employs 60,000 people and runs production lines for adidas and Puma as well as Nike, and Keady says drily: “I really have a hard time believing this only impacts 4437 workers.”

He focuses on Nike, however, as it’s the biggest, with more than 30 per cent of the global athletic footwear market; because Indonesia is Nike’s largest supplier after China and Vietnam, and because Indonesian workers have freedom to organise.

“If I tried to do in China or Vietnam what I do here, I would be deported — at best,” says Keady. And when something like the Nikomas settlement happens to Nike “it sends shockwaves through the rest of the industry”.

The company has worked intensively to neutralise its “sweatshop” image, by corporate social responsibility programs and by requiring contractors to accept its stiffened codes of conduct and “leadership standard”.

In the recent case, Nike emphasised its role in investigating the allegations and in pressing PT Nikomas’s Taiwanese owner to reimburse workers and improve local management standards. Nike insists, however, that it cannot continuously and comprehensively monitor contract factories it does not own or manage.

The Weekend Australian asked if the company was examining its other 42 Indonesian suppliers for the malpractices found at Nikomas. We received a copy of Nike’s response to similar questions from an Indonesian magazine, which did not, however, answer our query.

Keady says he doesn’t talk much about the influence of his liberation theology Christianity on his work. “But I believe that if this guy, Jesus the revolutionary, were around in 2012 he might be in places like Tanggerang in the slums with the workers. So that’s what drives me.”

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