NIKE WORKERS ALLEGE THEY HAVE BEEN CHEATED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN WAGES THROUGH FORCED, UNPAID OVERTIME

February 22nd, 2011

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Team Sweat:

This afternoon I sent the letter below to Nike CEO, Mark Parker.  The letter outlines the information I was recently given by the trade union representing Nike’s 18,000 workers at PT Nikomas in Indonesia.  If Nike complies with my requests, I hope to have an update to you on this case on March 8th.

Peace, Jim Keady

###

February 22, 2011

Mark Parker, CEO
Nike Inc.
One Bowerman Drive
Beaverton, OR 97005

Dear Mr. Parker,

On February 6, 2011 I had the pleasure of meeting with representatives from the Serikat Pekerja Nasional (SPN) in Serang, Indonesia to discuss the current conditions for Nike factory workers producing at PT Nikomas.

During this meeting, I was told that Nike factory workers at PT Nikomas are being forced to work unpaid overtime to meet Nike’s production quotas.

Here are the facts as they were given to me:

  • There are approximately 18,000 Nike factory workers at PT Nikomas and they produce more than 2,000,000 pairs of Nike sneakers per month.
  • Nike factory workers at PT Nikomas typically work from 7am-3pm.  This is followed by three hours of paid overtime.
  • Following their regular shift and paid overtime hours, your factory workers are then told by their supervisors to punch out on the time clock.
  • Once your workers are off the clock, they are forced by their supervisors to get back on the production line for one hour of unpaid overtime.
  • This hour of forced, unpaid overtime happens primarily in the sewing divisions and includes approximately 13,000 Nike factory workers.
  • The hourly wage for a fourth hour of overtime would be Rp12.600 ($1.40).
  • Nike factory workers are being forced to work this unpaid hour 6 days a week.
  • If these allegations are accurate, Nike factory workers at PT Nikomas have been cheated out of approximately  $5,460,000.00 this past year -  $1.40 (rate) x 6 (days) x 50 (weeks) x 13,000 (workers) = $5,460,000.00.
  • The SPN representatives shared that this forced overtime/wage cheating has been happening to Nike factory workers at PT Nikomas for 18 years.

In light of these alleged violations of your workers’ rights, I am requesting that:

1.     By March 8, 2011, Nike Inc. will contract the Trade Union Rights Centre (TURC) in Jakarta, Indonesia to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations at PT Nikomas listed above and the results of TURC’s investigation will be made public to the international NGO community, the press, and the trade unions at each Nike factory in Indonesia.

2.     By March 8, 2011, Nike Inc. will send an official memo to Muhaimin Iskandar, Indonesia’s Minister of Manpower, alerting him to the fact that you have received this memo and that you will be taking immediate action to ascertain the validity of the aforementioned violations of your Indonesian workers’ rights at PT Nikomas.

3.     By March 8, 2011, Nike Inc. will send an official memo to Rakhmat Suryadi, Chairman of SPN-Serang District, alerting him to the fact that you have received this memo and that you will be taking immediate action to ascertain the validity of the aforementioned violations of your Indonesian workers’ rights at PT Nikomas.

4.     By March 8, 2011, Nike Inc. will send me confirmation that each of the actions in points 1-3 has been taken, along with copies of the memos sent in English and Indonesian.

Once the findings from the investigation by TURC are complete, we can discuss what appropriate action(s) might follow.

If you would like to discuss this in more detail or if you have any questions, please feel free to email me at jim@educatingforjustice.org or call me at 732-988-7322.

I thank you for your consideration of this matter and I look forward to hearing from you by March 8th.

Peace,

Jim Keady, Director
Educating for Justice, Inc.

“WE ARE POWERLESS” A MINDSET THAT WE MUST BREAK

February 2nd, 2011

“We are powerless.”

As these words were uttered yesterday in two very different settings, my heart sank and my Irish temper flared. I am saddened because no human being should feel powerless. We all have inherent rights and dignity and given these, we all have power, given from God, that no man or economic system can strip from us. I am angry because it is completely unjust for people and corporations (ex. Nike) from my country to take advantage of this situation and exploit it for the pure maximization of profit.

I first heard the words “we are powerless,” during the panel discussion on the state of labor rights I took part in with the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club. It was during the presentation by Pak Wahid from the Ministry of Manpower.

During the question and answer period, a reporter from Agence France-Presse asked Pak Wahid why he felt that the implementation of Indonesia’s labor laws is ineffective and why it is so difficult when trying to improve labor conditions. After Pak Wahid shared his thoughts with the reporter, I asked the moderator if I might also comment.

I began, “You asked why does the Ministry of Manpower feel powerless? As an outsider, the analysis that I would give is because the country is still under colonial rule.”

There was a collective look of surprise among the Indonesians in the audience when I said this. Many of them know and feel this is the truth, but I imagine it was the first time that any of them heard these words come from the mouth of someone from one of the colonizing countries.

I continued, “In the past, it was the Dutch. The neo-colonialists are the transnational corporations. If you read Adrian Vickers, ‘A History of Modern Indonesia,’ just read the first three chapters and substitute ‘the Dutch’ for the Nikes, the Adidas, the Freeports… and it’s the same dynamic.

…And that’s where I have a problem as an American. Because I feel that Nike is misrepresenting what Americans stand for and what our values are. They are exploiting the corruption and collusion and nepotism (and) the poverty in this country and it is unfair and unjust.”

Later that evening, I was sitting on the floor of a cramped room in Balaraja, having a discussion with a Nike shoe factory worker about what he wants to do about the poor wages he and his fellow workers are being paid. As part of the discussion, we did a role playing exercise. I pretended to be a Nike worker and I spoke to my translator Alif as if he were the CEO of Nike. I told the Nike CEO that I was angry. That I work hard every day. That my friends and I deserve better wages. That it is unfair that the Nike executives are greedy and get rich, while workers grind out lives in abject poverty.

I asked the worker if this is what he felt in his heart. He said, “Of course. I’m not stupid Jim. I know this is our reality and it is unfair.  But… We are powerless.”

Alif, my translator, who himself is a journalist and activist, said, “Jim, he is stuck.” I agreed and the discussion ended there.

What both of my Indonesian friends have in common is a deeply held belief that Indonesians are powerless against the forces of globalization that have swept their country. This belief is rooted in a long and painful history of colonization in Indonesia and it is a mindset that must be broken if Indonesians are to claim the power that they do have over their lives, their workplaces, and the destiny of their nation.

I know in my heart and head what we need to do. We need a massive grassroots education campaign grounded in the theory of Paulo Freire (read the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed). I have actually worked with my Indonesian colleagues and developed an action plan for doing such critical education with the 123,000 workers producing Nike products in Indonesia. The challenge is that the price-tag for its implementation is $175,000 for one year’s worth of work.  But, I know we can make it happen.

Why?

Because in the struggle to make this a reality… we are not powerless.

Peace (and Justice), Jim Keady

NIKE’S INDONESIAN WORKERS ARE STILL PAID A POVERTY WAGE

January 31st, 2011

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Team Sweat:

After a day of settling in and enjoying some of the sights of Jakarta (national monument, national mosque, etc.), this evening I had my first meeting with a Nike factory worker during this trip. This particular worker is a long-time friend and colleague of mine in the struggle for justice for Nike’s workers in Indonesia. Our conversation was one of the most productive I have had in my more than 10 years of working on this issue.

We sat around a table at a hotel in Jakarta, ordered some coffee, tea, and french fries and got right down to brass tacks.

Workers at this particular Nike shoe factory are currently being paid Rp.1.243.000 ($138) per month for their basic wage. Along with their salary, they receive transportation to and from the factory by one of two means - there is a company bus provided for them or if they do not live on the bus route, they receive a transportation allowance of Rp.10.000 per day. They also receive one meal at the factory or if a meal is not provided, they receive a meal allowance of Rp.4.500 per day.

I also learned that workers are able to earn marginally more than the basic wage via the company promotion system. When a worker starts out at the factory, they are considered at “Level 1″ and are paid the basic wage of Rp.1.243.000. They are then assessed after three months. If they meet their production targets and their attendance is good, they will be promoted to Level 1A and for this they receive an additional Rp.16.000 per month in pay. They will be evaluated in another three months and if they pass, they are promoted to Level 1B and they receive an additional Rp.5.000. There are levels 1A to 1F and then they hit Level 2 that also goes from 2A through 2F.

Here is a breakdown of the entire promotion system.

Level 1 Rp.1.243.000
Level1A Rp.1.259.000
Level 1B Rp.1.264.000
Level 1C Rp.1269.000
Level 1D Rp.1.274.000
Level 1E Rp.1.279.000
Level 1F Rp.1.284.000
Level 2 Rp1.303.000

Level 2A Rp.1.308.000
Level 2B Rp.1.313.000
Level 2C Rp.1.318.000
Level 2D Rp1.323.000
Level 2E Rp.1.328.000
Level 2F Rp.1.333.000

So, the maximum salary that a operational level worker (sewing, cutting, assembling…) can make is Rp1.333.000 ($148) per month. To earn this salary, working in production groups of 250, cutting, sewing and assembling the shoes, workers produce 900 pairs of sneakers in 8 hours, that is 112.5 sneakers per hour or 1.875 sneakers per minute.

Let’s take a worker who is making the maximum (Level 2F) and see what they can afford for their toil on the production line.

They start the month with Rp1.333.000.

Rent = Rp.200.000
Transportation (beyond work-related travel) = Rp.600.000
Drinking Water = Rp.110.000

If you add up these three major expenses, they are Rp.910.000. Subtract the Rp.910.000 from Rp.1.333.000 and you are left with Rp.423.000. Divide that Rp.423.000 by 30 days and you have Rp.14.100 to spend each day on food, clothing, soap, toothpaste, education for your kids, and anything and everything else one might need to have to feel like a full human being.

Well…

One meal of rice, vegetables and a piece of chicken are going to cost you Rp.8.000 at the local food stall. A bottle of locally made iced-tea would cost you Rp.3.000. A snack of two bananas would cost you Rp.6.000.

You do the math.

Seriously, take a moment and do the math.

I asked my friend what a living wage would be for a Nike factory worker in the area where he and his fellow workers live. He said that for a worker that is single, it would be Rp,3.500.000 per month ($387) and for a worker supporting a family of four, it would be Rp.4.500.000 ($498).

I shared with him that to make this happen, to be able to pay Nike’s Indonesian workers a living wage, it would only be an additional $5 in production costs for a pair of sneakers. I told him that there are tens of thousands of consumers in the United States and around the world that will support workers if they make this demand of Nike. I also shared that it is imperative that we expose the lies that Nike tells the world about workers’ wages (Ex. Phil Knight stating that Nike factory workers are “absolutely” paid a living wage, “no, question about it.”)

He agreed, and tomorrow afternoon, after my morning panel discussion with the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club, he will go on camera and tell his story to the world. He has also agreed to set up meetings with workers from other factories to get their stories and the truth on the record. Stay tuned.

He did express to me that many of his fellow workers are still afraid to speak up and demand the justice they deserve. To let them know that there is support for them around the world, can you take a moment and write a comment to this note? Please tell Nike’s workers in Indonesia that you stand with them in solidarity!

Peace (and Justice), Jim Keady

JIM KEADY VISITS NIKETOWN AND HE’S OFF TO INDONESIA

January 28th, 2011

$2,000 in $6,000 TO GO! WILL YOU GIVE TO TEAM SWEAT?

December 22nd, 2010

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Team Sweat:

With $2000 in pledges already in, we have $6000 more to go to fully fund my upcoming research and organizing trip to Indonesia.

Will you make TEAM SWEAT part of your holiday giving and contribute $25, $50, $100, $250, $500 towards this effort?

To contribute right now, just click DONATE NOW!

Or if you would like to send a check, please make it payable to Educating for Justice and send it to:

Educating for Justice

1201 Third Avenue, Suite A

Spring Lake, NJ 07762

My last visit to Indonesia to expose conditions for Nike’s workers producing gear for the 2010 World Cup gained international media attention.  Here is a clip from the article that the LA Times ran on June 28, 2010.

“Like any die-hard sports fan, Jim Keady eagerly anticipated soccer’s World Cup. But he isn’t at home watching the matches. Instead, the 38-year-old New Jersey native has been in Indonesia, talking to the workers who make the Nike jerseys worn by nine of the teams in the tournament. For years, the former professional goalie has waged a one-man campaign to highlight Nike’s labor practices, complaining that the company pays Indonesian workers low wages to stitch together the uniforms that have made the company the world’s most successful sports garment manufacturer.”

I am confident my upcoming trip will be just as fruitful.  But it can only happen with the support of people like you.

Your contribution will help me to:

• Present “Behind the Swoosh: Sweatshops and Social Justice” at five Indonesian universities;

• Present a panel discussion on Nike’s sweatshops and labor rights for the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club, a non-profit organization for hundreds of foreign journalists based in Indonesia;

• Organize education sessions with workers at five Nike footwear and apparel factories;

• Conduct in-depth organizing meetings with members of the independent trade union at a major Nike footwear factory. I am hoping through these face-to-face discussions that we can finally reach a point where these workers will be ready to make their demands to Nike;

• Conduct a round of field research on wages, spending power, etc. to update my Nike case study;

• Develop a follow up education/organizing plan with my Indonesian team based on the outcomes of the planned meetings with workers.

Again, all this only happens with the financial support of people like you.

Please be sure to follow the latest with the campaign at www.teamsweat.org or www.facebook.com/teamsweat and if you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to email me at jim@educatingforjustice.org or call me at 732.988.7322.

Thanks in advance for your support and Happy Holidays!

Peace,

Jim Keady, Director

Educating for Justice

A CALL TO ARMS - HOW WE MUST TAKE THE FIGHT TO NIKE

September 8th, 2010

Team Sweat,

I have spent this summer thinking deeply about why we have not had more successes in the decade and a half struggle to end Nike’s exploitative labor practices around the world, but specifically in Indonesia, where much work has been done.  I could go on and on with my analysis on this, but I will not.  It is a waste of time and energy.  I want us to focus on the present and on winning.

How can we win?

First, we need to get very clear on what we want.  In the U.S., we have talked about winning in terms of “living wages” and in Indonesia, we have talked about winning in terms of “increasing welfare” for workers.  Neither of these phrases has any traction with the general public nor do they have traction in Nike’s cutthroat capitalist world.  We need to keep it simple when discussing what we want.  Nike’s Indonesian workers need to tell Nike, “We want a raise.  Period.”  They also need to tell Nike how much of a raise they want.  The current basic wage for Nike’s Indonesian workers is Rp1.100.000 (US$122) per month.  This is a poverty wage.  During my last visit to Indonesia in June, workers shared with me that they need at least Rp3.000.000 (US$333) per month to live with any sense of dignity.

How would this raise impact the cost of Nike sneakers?  Nike has published that the labor costs on an average pair of sneakers is about $2.50.  If that labor cost tripled because of the raise that workers asked for, and if that extra cost were passed on to consumers of Nike sneakers, it would mean that our $100 pair of Nike’s would cost $105.  Yeah, $5 extra bucks to lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty in the industrial slums of Indonesia.   Put it on my bill Nike.  I’ll pay it.

How can we make this happen?

1. A trade union at one of Nike’s Indonesian shoe factories needs to formally request contract negotiations.

2. The trade union must also formally request that representatives from Nike-USA be part of the contract negotiations.

3. In the contract negotiations, the trade union must tell Nike:

  • We want a raise so that the basic monthly salary for workers is Rp3.000.000 per month.
  • We want this raise ratified in a new contract to which the trade union, the factory owners and Nike are legally bound.
  • We want this contract executed within 30 days.

4. If after the 30-day period, Nike refuses the demands of the union, then TEAM SWEAT, which is made up of thousands of workers, students, activists, investors and athletes will publicly pressure Nike until they meet the unions’ demands.

Given the victory that USAS and Nike’s workers in Honduras recently had, NOW is the time for Nike’s Indonesian workers to hit Nike hard.  Remember, Nike said that they would never pay out severance to workers, that it was not their responsibility.  But because of workers and consumers fighting together, Nike did pay out.  We can make them meet workers’ demands again.

To my comrades in Nike’s factories in Indonesia, it is time for you to shed yourselves of the meekness that has been infused in your hearts by your colonialist past.  It is time for you to stand up and fight.  You are strong, smart and courageous.  You are the reason that Nike makes billions of dollars in profits.  Without you, there is no Nike.  You can bring Nike to their knees and you have an army of supporters in the international community waiting to fight with you.  So act.  Now.

Peace,

Jim Keady

JAKARTA POST: WHAT HAPPENS BEHIND THE SWOOSH

July 13th, 2010

By adelie Chevee

The Jakarta Post

Sun, 07/04/2010

Jim Keady has spent times living  with workers of PT ADIS Dimension, a footwear factory, and found out that they have lived in an appalling condition.

Keady said that the company, one of 37 Nike’s subcontractors in Balaraja, Tangerang, conducts incineration of waste from rubber shoes in a nearby location without considering its impact on the environment.

The practice exposed workers living nearby to emitting toxins from the incineration.

“Nike signed agreements with organizations protecting the environment. But it is not monitoring. If their subcontractors don’t respect it there are no penalties.” Keady said.

The unlawful incineration process is not the only criticism Team Sweat leveled against to the Nike. The not-for-profit organization denounces what it considered “an exploitation of workers” in developing countries including Vietnam or Indonesia.

In Indonesia, the highest minimum wage is Rp 1.1 million (US $120) but according to Keady this is not enough to secure a decent life.

After their rent, charges and cost of transportation, workers only take home Rp 700,000 ($77), says Keady.

To make matters worse for workers, they have to pay the cost of drinking water and two additional meals per day and child care, he said.

Keady explains that basic items such as soap, toothpaste or hygienic pads for women are hardly affordable with this amount.

Workers can’t save money and some even have to send their children back to the village so that they can live with relatives. This way they spend less.

With the amount of money, there is no way workers will have a chance to improve their lives and escape the cycle of poverty. Team Sweat’s research concluded that it would take Rp. 3 million per month for workers to meet their basic needs — which means three times higher than the existing wages.

Nike made $19 billion in revenue in 2009 with a 10 percent net profit margin. It is the world’s number one brand of athletic footwear and apparel.

Keady has talked to a number of Indonesian workers and persuaded them to build a unionized worker movement. But it is hard to make the workers organize if they face pressure at work.

“Nike exploits their fear,” he says. “It knows that their employees are desperate for work,” he said.

Keady knows a lot about workers’ woes as he has lived with the workers of a Nike’s subcontractors and lived off the same amount of money they receive, around $125 a month. He lost 25 pounds, and learned first hand that the living conditions are beyond what he could deal with.

Back in the States, Keady shared his experience at dozens of universities. What started as a limited tour turned out to be endless journey now that he is still on the road. Eventually his campaign, with the help of other NGOs, was enough to pressure Nike to make changes in some of its policies.

Team Sweat hopes that campaign against Nike bad practices could now be rekindled with the arrival of the soccer World Cup. “People should know the origin of the jerseys and shoes worn by their favorite players,” says Keady.

Nike and its contractors employ 800,000 workers in 1,000 factories across 52 countries. Indonesia is the firm’s third-largest manufacturing site after China and Vietnam, Keady said.

Responding to Keady’s accusation, a company spokesman said issues such as salary for workers in its disparate production chain are best dealt with “by negotiations between workers, labor representatives, the employer and the government”.

Erin Dobson, Nike’s senior manager for global public affairs, was quoted by the Los Angeles Times which published a story on Keady on Wednesday as saying that the company participated in efforts to improve the overall workers’ welfare.

“We believe there is ample room for innovation in this area,” she said, “And that progress must occur throughout the industry, and at the governmental level, not only in Nike’s supply chain.”

She said Nike’s code of conduct mandates that the company pay the minimum legal wage in each country, which in Indonesia is $122 a month, one of Asia’s lowest.

The Nike representative in Indonesia did not return a call from The Jakarta Post for this story.

In the past, Nike has repeatedly denied claims regarding labor issues in Indonesia.

LA TIMES: AS WORLD WATCHES SOCCER’S CUP, NIKE CRITIC SEES RED

June 28th, 2010

Labor activist Jim Keady says Indonesians who make team jerseys for the company are living in poverty. Nike says it has sought to improve worker welfare.

Jim Keady with a U.S. soccer shirt. "Despite their low wages, they still
have immense pride in their work," he says of the workers. (John M.
Glionna / Los Angeles Times)

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times

June 28, 2010

Reporting from Jakarta, Indonesia -

Like any die-hard sports fan, Jim Keady eagerly anticipated soccer’s World Cup.

But he isn’t at home watching the matches. Instead, the 38-year-old New Jersey native has been in Indonesia, talking to the workers who make the Nike jerseys worn by nine of the teams in the tournament.

Get dispatches from Times correspondents around the globe delivered to your inbox with our daily World newsletter. Sign up »

For years, the former professional goalie has waged a one-man campaign to highlight Nike’s labor practices, complaining that the company pays Indonesian workers low wages to stitch together the uniforms that have made the company the world’s most successful sports garment manufacturer.

Sitting at an outdoor coffeehouse here, Keady produced several Nike jerseys in Cup team colors. “These jerseys are real wealth you can touch,” he said. “They’re making Nike and the players rich while the workers who make them continue to grind out lives of abject poverty.”

Keady’s campaign goes back to 1997 when, as a soccer coach for St. John’s University in New York, he questioned the school’s plans to sign a $3.5-million endorsement deal with Nike.

The devout Catholic insisted that the contract would be hypocritical for a Christian university. “I was told to drop the issue or get out,” he said. “So I resigned in protest.”

The showdown prompted Keady to launch Team Sweat, a nonprofit dedicated to persuading Nike to change its business practices.

Keady said that major sports events such as the World Cup offer an opportunity to reach a wider audience.

“Right now, the eyes of the world are on the World Cup,” he said. “Now is the time to get out my message.”

Nike and its contractors employ 800,000 workers in 1,000 factories across 52 countries. Indonesia is the firm’s third-largest manufacturing site after China and Vietnam, Keady said.

A company spokesman said issues such as salary for workers in its disparate production chain are best dealt with “by negotiations between workers, labor representatives, the employer and the government.”

Erin Dobson, Nike’s senior manager for global public affairs, said the company has participated in efforts to improve overall worker welfare. “We believe there is ample room for innovation in this area,” she said, “and that progress must occur throughout the industry, and at the governmental level, not only in Nike’s supply chain.”

She said Nike’s code of conduct mandates that the company pay the minimum legal wage in each country, which in Indonesia is $122 a month, one of Asia’s lowest.

Keady says that if Nike raised the price of its shoes by $2.50 a pair and gave that money to workers, it would help lift most out of poverty. Nike calls that a simplistic solution that does not take into account complicated country factors.

In 2000, the towering, redheaded Keady moved to Indonesia and lived on the same salary as a Nike worker, which at the time was about $1.25 a day, staying in a 9-by-9-foot home in a community where 10 families share bathroom and kitchen facilities.

He lost 25 pounds in one month and returned to the U.S. to tell of his experiences. “I thought it would be a 10-week tour, but I’ve been on the road ever since,” he said.

Often, his campaign resembles activist Michael Moore’s documentary “Roger & Me” and Keady has recorded his exploits, producing a short film called “Behind the Swoosh.” He also unsuccessfully tried to meet with Phil Knight, Nike chairman and former chief executive, and has sought the support of athletes promoting Nike, including Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and soccer star Mia Hamm.

But he spends most of his time interviewing workers who don’t make enough money in a week to buy a Nike jersey. Although he hasn’t had time to watch the World Cup games, many of the workers have.

“Despite their low wages, they still have immense pride in their work,” he said. “They’re overjoyed at the fact that many of these World cup players are wearing jerseys made in Indonesia.”

Keady told the story of one Nike factory worker.

“He said that one day, he’d like to be able to buy a pair of Nike sneakers that he helps make,” the activist recalled. “After 19 years of factory work, he wanted to be able to bring home the product so he could show his daughter what Daddy does. That just floored me.”

john.glionna@latimes.com

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

JUNE 10, 2010: “YES, WE WANT TO FIGHT, BUT WE DON’T KNOW HOW.”

June 16th, 2010

Team Sweat:

One of the goals of my trip (as you will read about in future posts) was to find the workers that made the World Cup replica jerseys that I bought at Niketown in NYC before I left for Indonesia. My team had been searching for a couple of weeks prior to my arrival for the plants where these jerseys were produced, but to no avail. Luckily, following our meeting with the Nike shoe factory workers the other night, one of the union leaders said that he had a contact for us at a plant that may have produced this stuff. On Thursday night, he arranged for me to meet with half a dozen workers from this Nike apparel factory.

As I pulled the soccer jerseys from my bag, replicas from the U.S., Brazilian, Australian and English National Teams, and passed them around the room, I was struck by the care and attention that each worker gave to the shirts. When most people grab one of these jerseys, they hold it up to themselves, throw it on, and are off on their merry way. But these workers carefully inspected each piece, running their fingers along each seam and holding it the way that a sculptor might hold and admire a finished piece of art. These were not just soccer jerseys to them, this was their lifework, and the pride they took in what they do and create was evident.

As things turned out, these particular jerseys were not produced at their factory, although they did produce replicas for Nike the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and they are now producing similar Nike products. They shared that there may be a factory within their group that produced these and they would try and find out for me.

As our conversation continued, the workers shared that (to no surprise), the number one issue for them was their wages. Their basic salaries ranged from Rp1.130.000 to Rp1.191.000. The differences in pay were because of the range of jobs that were held (sewing operator, machine tech, sample creators).

They also shared a couple of other interesting things. one of the women told me that whenever Nike monitors are scheduled to visit the plant, workers are told by the managers to lie to the monitors and NOT to discuss anything that might be deemed negative about the plant. The also shared that their work days are very long, sometimes working from 7am-8:30pm. And, when they do have to work long shifts like this, the factory is supposed to provide them with dinner - a meal of at least 1400 calories. The reality is that they get small portions of rice, vegetables, tempeh, and salty fish - not nearly close to the agreed upon standard. They told me that in the past, they used to get a meal allowance of Rp2.250 if they had to work overtime. I know from my research that Rp2.250 would buy you about a third of a portion of a modest meal at the local food stall. So, it seems that whether they are getting the cash or the food, they are being cheated.

We came back to the discussion on wage levels and one of the men shared how tough it is to try and survive on the wages, especially given the fact that he has a daughter. I’m a relatively new parent myself (my daughter will be two in July) and so the issues that workers who are parents face have taken on new personal emotional meaning for me.

I asked him about his daughter and I learned that she is three-and-a-half years old. When she was just three months old, she had to be sent to live with his mother-in-law in a village in central Java between Solo and Yogakarta. Because he makes such a low salary producing for Nike, he is only able to see his daughter two or three times a year. He fought back his pain as he shared this with me and my heart went out to him. I have only been away from my daughter for a few days and I miss her dearly, I cannot imagine only seeing her two or three times a year.

I shared with him and his fellow workers that this situation is unfair. I showed them flyers I had prepared that documented how much Nike made last year from their sweat and hard work.

Nike’s 2009 Revenues: Rp19.200.000.000.000

I also showed them a flyer with the names, photos and salaries of the top five executives at Nike and what they made in 2009.

Phil Knight, Chairman of the Board
Basic salary = Rp28.254.340.000
Total salary = Rp34.564.540.000

Mark Parker, President and CEO
Basic salary = Rp13.769.230.000
Total salary = Rp88.005.870.000

Donald Blair, Chief Financial Officer, VP
Basic salary = Rp7.400.000.000
Total salary = Rp33.470.000.000

Gary DeStefano, President of Global Operations
Basic salary = Rp9.588.460.000
Total salary = Rp39.984.080.000

Charlie Denson, President of the Nike Brand
Basic salary = Rp11.923.100.000
Total salary = Rp73.333.700.000

After showing them these flyers I shared with them that I am quite sure that none of these men or anyone that is working for Nike in the USA had to “export” their babies back to home villages. I shared with them that these Nike executives are getting rich, the Nike investors are getting rich, the athletes that endorse Nike are getting rich, but the workers who produced the real wealth for Nike continue to live in abject poverty. I asked them if they wanted to fight to change this.

One of the women responded, “Yes, we want to fight, but we don’t know how.”

Here our work begins.

JUST(ice) DO IT.

Peace, Jim Keady

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JUNE 10, 2010: DEMO FOR WORKER JUSTICE IN JAKARTA

June 16th, 2010

Team Sweat:

This morning I attended a demonstration at the famous Bunderan HI statue in central Jakarta.

My colleagues here in the NGO community have been working for months on engaging a number of the major brands to improve conditions for workers. It seems that their negotiations have fallen apart and this demonstration was an attempt to raise public awareness about the current state of affairs.

It does not surprise me that these talks did not lead to the desired end. Without the threat that there will be labor strikes and/or a consumer boycott if demands are not met, these top brands (Nike, Adidas, Reebok, etc.) will go along with these discussions and in the end, do nothing. That is why it is imperative that the focus of our work be grounded in building worker power and encouraging and supporting workers to use their power to bring Nike to the bargaining table.

Peace, Jim Keady

JUNE 9, 2010: WHAT CAN YOU BUY FOR RP1.100.000?

June 16th, 2010

Team Sweat:

I spent the afternoon doing a round of pricing research to update my understanding of the purchasing power (or lack thereof) for Nike’s Indonesian workers.

The current basic monthly salary for a Nike worker here is Rp1.100.000 ($114USD). Here are some average major monthly expenses that all workers have.

Rent Rp300.000
Drinking water Rp100.000
Transportation Rp100.000

If you add up these three major expenses, that equals Rp500.000. If you subtract this Rp500.000 from the basic monthly salary of Rp1.100.000, you are left with Rp600.000. Divide this Rp600.000 by the average amount of days in a month (30) and your remaining daily spending power is Rp20.000. What does that mean?

You will need to eat. You get one (not so great) meal at the factory. You will need two additional meals. A modest meal at the warteg (local restaurant or food stall) will cost you Rp8.000 - two meals, Rp16.000.

If you want to have a bottle of iced tea with one of these meals, that will cost you Rp2.500.

If you want to have a healthy snack during the day (two bananas) that will cost you Rp4.000. You cannot afford the snack.

Isn’t that crazy? You are producing the real wealth for a company that posted $1,500,000,000.00USD in profits last year and you cannot afford two meals, a bottle of iced tea AND a snack.

It is important to note, that we have only discussed SOME expenses. What about clothing, shoes, stuff for your house, recreation, soap, toothpaste, etc.? And, we are only talking about the needs for one adult here. What if you had children?

When the workers here talk about their financial struggles, they say that they are digging a hole today to fill in the hole that they dug yesterday, but the hole in front of them just keeps getting bigger. Ironically, so do Nike’s profits.

Peace, Jim Keady

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JUNE 9, 2010: THE DUMPING AND BURNING OF NIKE SCRAP SHOE RUBBER

June 16th, 2010

Team Sweat:

My team and I left my hotel this morning at 6:30am and drove 90 minutes to a Nike shoe factory in one of the industrial areas outside Jakarta. There we sat and waited (again). We were back on the beat looking to document the dumping and burning of Nike scrap shoe rubber.

This is an important issue because Nike has made major public statements about their supposed commitment to protecting the environment. In fact, if you read their most recent corporate responsibility report, it is loaded with claims and planned initiatives on how they say they will limit their global environmental footprint. I am unsure how successful they are going to be since it seems that they cannot even manage their trash in a way that is responsible.

“Therefore the disposal of footwear soles by burning that Mr. Keady discusses in his presentation is either counterfeit or unauthorized.”
- Carolyn Wu, Issues Manager, Nike, Inc. ~ May 10, 2002

As I wrote in an earlier post, I have been pushing Nike on this issue since I first discovered that shoe rubber from their plants was being dumped in burned in villages around the factories. For years, Nike denied any wrongdoing (note the quote above from Nike’s Carolyn Wu).

In 2009 Nike did admit, to me at least, that there was some validity to my claims. Just before my visit to Indonesia in 2009, Nike sent one of their top environmental people from Asia to investigate this issue. During his visit, this Nike exec sat outside a factory and waited for the dump truck to leave the plant. He followed it and found that the end of the line was a public dump where eventually Nike had to clean up 180 dump truck loads of scrap shoe rubber and spend thousands of dollars on an environmental remediation of the site. The resulting policy change was Nike’s new waste management system.

The question I wanted answered, was “Is the waste management system really effective or it is simply another Nike public relations ploy?”

So… there we sat and waited.

The giant yellow dump truck rolled out of the factory gates around 10:15am. We whipped our van around and followed it down the bumpy dirt road. I must share that I felt somewhat uneasy as we were doing this. In 2002 while doing similar research at a dump, I ended up being chased in my van by machete wielding preman (thugs) on motorcycles who worked for the mafioso that ran the dump. They eventually caught us, beat my driver and brought my team back to the dump where I ended up on my knees with the boss telling me, “If you come back here, I will kill you,” as he stood over me with a sword drawn over my head.

The dump truck pulled into a makeshift recycling center that is run by the local community and started to unload. To not raise suspicions with the men who ran this operation, I posed as an American buyer of shoe scraps. We told them that I worked for a company that made artificial soccer fields and that we used this kind of material as a base. They bought the story. From our conversation I learned that they only received the scrap foam from the factory (about 1 ton a day) and it is sold to buyers that use it to make cushions for sofas, chairs, etc. There was no scrap shoe rubber dumped with them, but they told me where it was discarded, a dump site just up the road.

We made our way down the road and came upon the dump site that we were told about. It turned out that while we were at the community recycling center, that another dump truck must have left the plant and come to this site. As it unloaded it’s trash, we watched and waited. It took about 20 minutes for the truck to be emptied of its contents. It was morbidly fascinating to watch the people at the dump sort through the trash as it was pushed off the truck. They scavenged for plastic bottles and anything else that might have value if salvaged.

When the team of men from the factory finished their work, loaded back onto the truck and rolled out back onto the road, we kicked into action.

Alif told the man that ran the dump that I was a Canadian reporter doing a documentary on recycling efforts in Indonesia. Rather than TELL you what I found here, I offer the photos below and will allow you to judge if Nike’s claims about their new waste management system are legit.

Just an FYI, the kind of dumping I described above and that you can see in these photos, happens 3-4 times a day, every day, and the burning happens for hours every afternoon.

JUST(ice) DO IT.

Peace, Jim Keady

JUNE 8, 2010: WAGES - NOTHING HAS CHANGED

June 16th, 2010

Team Sweat:

I spent the early evening of June 8th traveling the broken, dusty roads of an industrial suburb outside of Jakarta en route to a meeting with Nike factory workers. At around 6:30pm, we arrived at the home of a worker and I was invited in. I had met with many of these workers before, so it was a reunion of sorts and I was very happy to see them. I settled into the corner on the floor of the 6×10 room, sparsely decorated with a rug, outdated wall-hangings, and fading blue paint. Following a brief introduction and the gathering of some data, I listened to the all too familiar stories from these eleven Nike factory workers. Despite the fact that they produce the real wealth (the stuff you can actually hold in your hands, or put on your feet) for the $19,200,000,000.00 sportswear giant, they still live in grinding poverty.

As our discussion continued, one of the women, her young face framed by her traditional Muslim headdress, shared how painfully difficult it is to live on her basic monthly salary of Rp1.110.000 ($114USD). Her rent is Rp300.000 and there is pressure to send Rp350.000 back to her family in the village. If there is no overtime for her to work and earn extra pay, this leaves her with Rp405.000 for the month to meet the rest of her basic needs.

Let’s do some math here. If she has Rp.405.000 after rent and sending money home to her family and you divide that Rp405.000 by the average amount of days in a month (30), she is left with Rp15.500 per day to meet the rest of her basic needs. And when a simple meal of rice, vegetables, tempeh, and a small piece of fish costs Rp8.000 and a bottle of iced tea costs Rp2.500, it should be no surprise why she was near tears as she shared that she has to borrow money every month from friends and neighbors to make ends meet.

The remainder of our discussion focused on what we could do together to help get workers the raises they deserve. I shared with them that the consumers and investors from around the world (4,000 of whom live in Jakarta) who are part of TEAM SWEAT are ready to support them in their fight. The workers then shared their fears with me, that if they fight for the wage they want and deserve (Rp3.000.000 per month) and go on strike to make it happen, that they could be fired and that Nike could pull orders from their factory.

I responded to this by saying that their fears may be justified and then I raised the following, “What else would you like to do? Nike’s making money, the factory is making money, the athletes are making money… and you continue to live in poverty. When are you going to stand up and fight for yourselves?” It was a difficult thing for me to say and I prefaced it by letting them know that I shared it with love and solidarity. But I remained firm that Nike’s Indonesian workers could not continue to look for people like me to act like a Santa Claus and bring them the gift of better working conditions and fair wages. It was time for them to take action. Still fearful, they agreed.

We will meet again on Thursday night to continue our discussion and lay the groundwork for a specific action.

Peace, Jim Keady

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JUNE 8, 2010: THE SEARCH FOR SCRAP SHOE RUBBER

June 16th, 2010

Team Sweat:

I started today by meeting with Alif and Benny, my friends and colleagues that have been working to organize things prior to my arrival in Indonesia. They reported that contacts have been made with workers at a number of Nike factories and that meetings with workers are in the process of being confirmed. They shared that the key issues remain the same: workers’ wages are too low to meet basic needs; and the workers continue to be afraid of the power that Nike has over them (i.e. they fear doing real organizing and exercising their right to strike for better wages because they could be fired and/or Nike will pull orders).

As our discussion continued, Alif shared something very interesting with me. As I noted above, I did my best to keep my travel plans (specific dates, etc.) a secret on this trip. Despite this, at 7:31pm on Monday night, about 20 minutes before my plane was about to land, Alif got a text message from one of the staff members at Nike’s Jakarta office - “When Jim arrives in Indonesia, tell him I said, ‘hi.’” How Nike knew I was en route is somewhat unsettling, but it is the nature of my work.

After our meeting in Jakarta, Alif and I headed out to a Nike factory. Our plan was to sit outside the plant and wait for the dump truck that carries the scrap shoe rubber to leave the factory and follow it.

A Nike scrap shoe rubber dump site in 2001.

A little background on this… In the summer of 2000, I first unearthed the fact that scrap shoe from Nike plants was being dumped and burned in villages. The slow burning of Nike shoe rubber at a relatively low heat emits dangerous toxins into the air, soil and water. Despite the fact that I put Nike on notice with regard to this issue in 2000, 2001, and 2002, when I returned to Indonesia in 2008, I once again documented the same problem. In the summer of 2008, I shared my updated findings with the top executives at Nike and was promised that it would be addressed. In July of 2009, during my visit to Nike factories with Caitlin Morris, Nike’s Director of Innovation and Sustainable Business, I was shown the new waste management system that would rectify this issue. While it looked impressive, I was not convinced that it would address the problem. Why? Because implementing that kind of system and changing the culture that drives that system would take REAL investment from Nike. What happens now is that Nike tells their subcontractors, “we want this done.” But Nike does not provide the factory with any capital to make it happen, nor are they willing to increase the price they pay to the factories for Nike sneakers to offset the costs. So what you end up with is a nice show for the monitors and Nike telling the world that they have addressed these issues and they have a new system in place, etc. But the reality remains unchanged on the ground.

So, we sat there for hours, clandestinely waiting, but to no avail. We would have to try again.

Peace, Jim Keady

JUNE 7, 2010: MY RESEARCH IN INDONESIA BEGINS

June 16th, 2010

Team Sweat:

After more than a day of travel, I reached Jakarta safely and am ready to begin 10 days of research on the current state of conditions for Nike factory workers here.

I am hopeful that this trip will be productive and rewarding. I also am hopeful that you will enjoy and learn from the accounts of my daily activities.

JUST(ice) DO IT.

Peace, Jim Keady

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Report: Meeting at Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation

July 23rd, 2009

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Team Sweat: 

Yesterday afternoon I met with 17 comrades representing 12 different NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and trade unions at the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH). We met to discuss a number of issues, including: the current activities of Team Sweat, both in Indonesia and the USA; creating a broad vision and strategy for engaging Nike on the conditions of workers in Indonesia; preparations for a meeting today with Caitlin Morris, Nike’s Director of Innovation and Sustainability; and coordination of worker meetings and field research for the two weeks I will be in Indonesia. 

Along with the issues mentioned above, we also had a lively discussion on the history of the campaign work done on the Nike sweatshop issue in Indonesia as well as how to best move forward in our future campaigning. From our conversation, it became clear that much of what has been done by Nike and has been reported on by the press regarding Nike’s “social responsibility” has been window dressing that has distracted both unions and NGOs from what should be our core activities: educating and organizing workers; and using organized worker power to pressure Nike to truly be responsible for their labor force in Indonesia. 

The three key demands that we must maintain our focus on are: 

1. Living wages; 
2. Guaranteeing freedom of association when workers want to organize, join and/or be active with trade unions; 
3. Establishing collective bargaining agreements to which the unions, the factory owners, and Nike are all legally bound. 

For those who are not as familiar with the history of the Nike sweatshop issue in Indonesia, during the period of 1995-2002, these were the issues on which we focused and with sustained pressure, both in Indonesia and through international solidarity, gains were made. We need to get back to these, remain focused, and push forward towards victory for the workers who are producing the real wealth for Nike. 

Ok, that is today’s update. Tomorrow I will write with a report on the meeting with Nike’s Caitlin Morris. 

Solidaritas! 

Peace, Jim Keady

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Finding an Anti-Sweatshop Strategy That Works

July 6th, 2009

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By Jeff Ballinger

(July 2009) THAT NEARLY twenty years of anti-sweatshop activism has come to naught is suggested by the cost breakdown of a $38 University of Connecticut hoodie that appeared in the Hartford Courant a couple of years ago: the workers received a mere 18 cents, while the university received $2.24 in licensing fees. (Mexican factory: profit, 70 cents; overhead, $2.12; material, $5.50–distributor [Champion]: overhead $5.10; profit $1.75–Seller [UCONN Co-Op]: overhead, $14.49; profit, $4.50). The workers’ share could hardly have been lower when the movement began.

Given the worldwide financial crisis, it is a safe bet that fighting sweatshop abuses here and abroad will not be a key policy undertaking for Barack Obama and his team. But this does not rule out a wide-ranging set of initiatives that would significantly empower workers. Tweaking our foreign assistance priorities, revising “democracy promotion,” and undertaking diplomacy from a community organizer’s perspective—these changes in U.S. policy would at least begin an assault on global sweatshop practices. And they are especially important as an antidote to the solipsism of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), wherein corporate “self-regulation” teams are rebranded as “activists” by lazy and compliant media. The new administration needs to connect with real labor activists, in Asia and Central America especially, and allow them to speak for themselves. 

But first we need to collect information on sweatshop practices abroad and make it available to activists, who often can’t collect it themselves. Twenty years ago, I worked in the small Jakarta office of the Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AFL-CIO). When my boss visited Jakarta, I described to him the radical inadequacy of the local minimum wage of 87 cents per day. By the Indonesian government’s admission, this provided only 68 percent of the “minimum physical needs” for a single adult. He suggested that I develop a project to monitor compliance with this inadequate minimum: were the workers even receiving 87 cents? USAID had recently made available funds for human rights grants; we applied and received something on the order of $20,000. The discovery of 44 percent noncompliance in 250 Jakarta-area workplaces was shocking and–to our great surprise and delight–avidly reported in the (mostly Suharto-controlled) newspapers. As a result of the publicity, workers began an unprecedented wave of wildcat strikes that resulted in much-improved compliance numbers.

The back-story is interesting. When the grant was discussed at a twice-monthly meeting where the Jakarta USAID Mission reported to U.S. Embassy staff, I was told that a buzz went around the room: “We’re helping who to do what?” Not surprisingly, AID officials received a similar message of disbelief from Nike’s top official in Indonesia after the strike wave and the attendant bad publicity. Did the local AID Mission pull back? It didn’t. In less than a year, I had approval for a grant of well over $600,000 for survey work that reached 172,000 workers; the number of strikes quadrupled, and the minimum wage rose steadily. But this momentum has not been sustained.

There is, of course, a lot of misinformation circulating, in addition to our common lack of information. Nearly all the academic literature on the subject claims that foreign investors pay better wages than local firms. How to explain, then, the fact that 85 percent of the 720 strikes in Vietnam last year were at foreign-investment factories? My talks with workers there in early 2008 confirmed my long-held suspicion that local firms were less abusive and less likely to cheat workers. Another example of misinformation is the work of Columbia University’s Jagdish Bhagwati, who, in 2000, induced 250 other economists to sign an open letter to college presidents, urging them not to give in to anti-sweatshop students’ demands because “the net result would be shifts in employment that will worsen the collective welfare of the very workers in poor countries who are supposed to be helped.” But the numbers from Indonesia tell a different story: when the wage was 87 cents a day, Nike had 20,000 contract laborers there; when the wage was $2.47—after five years of agitation—the footwear and apparel giant had more than 110,000 workers making products for export.

The lesson on the foreign-assistance front, then, is twofold: first, look for “empowering” projects to assist workers directly in local struggles and, second, use survey-research tools to build a database available to local legal aid groups and labor activists. What is most needed is information about dysfunctional governance, which has previously been unavailable to them.

WORKERS RIGHTS should be a fundamental principle undergirding both “democracy promotion” and our public diplomacy endeavors. The approach should be informed by the same caution that a community organizer uses to size up a neighborhood in distress, buffeted by multiple external and internal forces. It is surprising how little we know about how industrial relations play out in the world’s export-processing zones—even after twenty years of press reports and activists’ campaigns. A 2006 New York Times story out of China, for example, quoted a Communist Party report that asserted that there were 20,000 labor inspectors, 1.2 million audits, and over 8 million back-pay awards in 2005. That’s possible, but we really have no clue as to what is actually happening. (For comparison purposes, the United States has 750 inspectors for 130 million workers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act.) 

Similarly, when a story about Asian workers being mistreated in Jordanian apparel shops appeared in 2006, the Times’s report quoted Yanal Beasha, Jordan’s trade representative in Washington, as saying that Jordanian inspectors monitor working conditions in factories and that the government enforces overtime laws and recently increased the minimum wage for citizens and guest workers. Several workers debunked the claim, but again, there is no reliable data on enforcement.

Obama said before twenty thousand people at Prague Castle, “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.” These standards should apply to governments that oversee vast export-processing zones, as well as to dictators bent on nuclear extortion.

Addressing the rule of law as applied to the workplace ought to be a slam-dunk for the president and our recently re-energized State Department, even given the fact that such a worker-advocacy platform may discomfit countries such as China (our banker), Turkey (prone to nationalist tantrums), and Bangladesh (which has a host of stability concerns), just to name a few. For far too long, autocratic regimes have been getting conflicting advice from American policy makers. The boiler-plate nostrums involving multiparty democracy and clean government made little practical sense when China, pre-reform Indonesia, and Vietnam were experiencing growth rates in the double digit range. The off-the-charts venality of these states mocked the World Bank’s decade-long focus on fighting corruption. That the boiler plate wasn’t serious was signaled in many ways; now is the time to change the signals.

At an appropriate venue—such as a gathering of trade unionists and labor rights activists in Mexico or Thailand—Obama should outline the ways in which workers are grievously disadvantaged in the global economy. Activists across the globe would be thrilled to hear an American president calling into question such neoliberal tenets as the “flexible” workforce and the necessary “reform” of national labor codes—these two together have opened the door to a noxious insecurity of employment. Specifically, he could cite the World Bank’s “competitive index,” which ranks countries higher for ease of hiring and firing, reduced severance benefits, and other employer-friendly policies. Particularly egregious is the recent study funded and heavily influenced by the World Bank. Its report concludes that workers have to sacrifice even more than they have already in the name of economic growth. Organized as the Commission on Growth and Development, it made the astonishing discovery that the developing world’s workers are over protected. The report includes a discussion about how governments need to “mollify the influential minority of workers” in the formal, wage-paying sector. Hence the need for “special zones” with reduced protections—at best, somewhere in between the formal sector and “informal” destitution. The overall findings were praised in a Wall Street Journal article arguing that “there is room for countries to ape the Chinese model.” A 2007 Brookings Institution publication similarly prescribes “ease of hiring and firing” as a primary “condition for maximizing growth.” These are the policies that produce a worker’s eighteen-cent share of a $38 hoodie.

It is clear that a new architecture of rights must be erected, beginning with a no-nonsense survey of current practices. Every labor attaché or labor reporting officer at an American embassy should compile the following facts: Has the country signed International Labor Organization Convention 81 (Labor Inspection)? If so, when is the last time a report was sent to Geneva? How many labor inspectors are there? How many factory inspections were done last year? What is the number of violations found? How many prosecutions started? How many back pay awards were made? Similarly, on the environmental side, statistics need to be collected on factories visited, citations, and types of hazardous waste. And our attachés should also map out the bureaucratic chain of command, with names of responsible local officials and an account of who reports to whom. U.S.-based companies importing more that $50 million worth of goods should have to post these findings on their corporate Web sites—in both English and the local language—for every country in which they have more than three contract factories.

All the inspection/enforcement statistics should be folded into a matrix maintained by a nongovernmental organization working under a several-year grant from the State Department’s Bureau of Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor. Alongside the raw numbers, wiki-style narratives should be included on such issues as freedom for NGOs operating in the labor sector, labor history, recent strikes, opinions on the adequacy of the minimum wage, academic papers on all these issues, and contact information for unions and activist groups. Such a program would make possible a global dialogue about key issues. For example, a recent law change regarding severance pay in Colombia addresses the most recent wage-cheating tactic employed by multinationals (declaring bankruptcy and skipping out on substantial payments due to workers); the Dominican Republic has trained lawyers to act as labor standards inspectors but as mediators not in the familiar command-and-control mode. We need to know how this is working out. Again, Bulgaria appears to be quite serious about labor inspection and tracking worker complaints to authorities—we should pay attention to such initiatives.

OBAMA COULD make a very significant contribution to an urgent global problem for which the Bush administration spent upward of $500 million without much effect—“Trafficking in Persons.” The “action” up to now consisted mainly of getting legislatures around the world to pass laws on trafficking; it’s a good bet that the number of lawyers and consultants employed dwarfs the number of organized crime leaders captured. This fact did not restrain the Bush team’s fiery rhetorical pronouncements: the United States and its allies would “stop at nothing to end the debasement of our fellow men and women… the defeat of human trafficking is the great moral calling of our time.” Forced prostitution is the most well-known form of trafficking, but factory workers are also trafficked—and then sweated in legal or illegal shops. It is time to forgo the rhetoric and think about practical efforts to stop trafficking, with reliable benchmarks on our progress.

Officials might start by going after the low-hanging fruit, borrowing from the concept of “low obligational ante” developed by Abram and Antonia Chayes in their writings about getting respect for international agreements across a wide spectrum of countries. For over ten years, it has been common knowledge that foreign workers are being shipped across national boundaries to do factory work, often making products for export. Only last year, an award-winning television exposé interviewed Bangladeshi and Vietnamese workers producing Nike T-shirts in Malaysia in familiar, appalling conditions exacerbated by ruthless labor contractors. It would be simple for the State Department to organize a briefing on “trafficking” for all corporations that know or suspect that similarly vulnerable workers may be producing products anywhere along their supply chains. Those businesses whose executives do not attend—but are reliably implicated—should go to the top of the “watch list.”

The benefits of such a strategy are threefold: Local governments in Asia and elsewhere would see U.S. embassy officials visiting cheated and abused workers; local NGOs would see an administration unafraid to antagonize U.S. firms, and, most important, cheated workers might win compensation, thereby emboldening other workers.

Eventually, such a no-nonsense strategy would undermine the booming Corporate Social Responsibility industry. The shallowness and deceit of the CSR farce may be clearly observed in press reports. The Financial Times, for example, ran a headline, “Nike to promote workers’ rights” in mid-2007, and a news report on Nike in the same paper the very next day described “a push to promote labour rights, including the freedom to form and join trade unions.” This at a time when Nike itself reported fourteen strikes involving tens of thousands of workers. In reality, there is no collective bargaining going on at any shoe or apparel factories in the developing world. A Chinese group released a report in 2007 that underscored this point. It was an assessment of union rights in a factory producing for Reebok where–with much fanfare in 2002–Reebok had persuaded a contractor (the Shun Da Sporting Good Corporation in Fuzhou) to allow a secret-ballot election for union representatives: “The results of the [2007] investigation were extremely disappointing. Working conditions have deteriorated noticeably, and the trade union is doing more or less nothing to further workers’ interests. Interviews with workers uncovered widespread dissatisfaction and distrust towards the current union” (China Labor News Translations).

For weary observers of corporate-dominated globalization, it will come as little surprise that the coordinator of the World Bank’s aforementioned growth commission is economist Michael Spence. Until recently, Spence was the dean of Stanford’s business school–holding a chair endowed by and named after Nike CEO Phil Knight. A decade ago, while a member of Nike’s board of directors, Nobel-laureate Spence told a group of business school students in Singapore that global firms “make nothing” and that corporations must be “ruthless and not tell people you can do it in-house when out-sourcing would do a better job.” 

This is the real CSR at work, and it goes a long way toward explaining the failure, so far, of anti-sweatshop activism. 
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Sweatshop laborers paid just £2 a day to churn out £49 England kit

June 23rd, 2009

Team Sweat:

Check out this story published last week by “News of the World” (UK) about Indonesian sweatshop workers making the English National Team kits.  Umbro is owned by Nike, Inc.  I am hoping to visit with workers from PT Tuntex (mentioned in the article) during my visit to Indonesia in July.  

Peace, Jim Keady 

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THE World Cup shirts worn by England’s multi-million pound soccer stars and tens of thousands of fans are made by slumdog workers paid just £2 A DAY in a secret sweat-shop in Indonesia.

A News of the World investigation has traced the Football Association’s newly-designed official Three Lions tops back to a slave labour factory that makers Umbro-owned by Nike- don’t want YOU to know about.

Behind barbed wire fences patrolled by guards, more than 2,000 dirt-poor teenage girls and young mums toil for a sickening 16p AN HOUR, 12 hours a day, making the trendy shirts the FA is selling for £49 A TIME.

One told us: “We all work maximum overtime because the basic salary isn’t enough to live on and keep our families. The work is very hard and the pay is not good but jobs are hard to get.”

The machinists are watched constantly by patrolling supervisors ordered to fire anyone caught chatting or taking mobile phone pictures of their appalling conditions.

FOR THE FULL STORY CLICK HERE

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