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
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
Because in the struggle to make this a reality… we are not powerless.
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.
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.
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.
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!
A Challenge to the Christian Mission at St. John’s University
A term paper by
James W. Keady
Catholic Social Teaching
St. John’s University, NY
When I first began my research for this paper I had no idea of the incredible journey it would lead me. As a graduate assistant soccer coach at St. John’s University pursuing a master’s degree in pastoral theology, what started as a simple research paper hoping to link moral theology and sport turned into a hard life lesson in big money, power and politics. Also, for the first time in my life I was awakened to the reality of attempting to live the justice of the Gospel. Never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen what would unfold from exploring the possibility that the Nike Corporation was a possible violator of Catholic Social Teaching.
To give a full account of what has transpired around this issue and the implications of such, I would have to write a book (and I may just yet). The purpose of this paper is multifaceted and will focus on the following areas: 1) general background on the issue at hand; 2) raw capitalism; 3) Nike as an example of raw capitalism; 4) Nike as a violator of Catholic Social teaching; 5) Nike relationship with St. John’s University; 6) Saying no to Nike, a matter of conscience.
General Background Information
How did I get involved with an issue that would open my eyes to the stream of injustice that flows through our economic system, that would begin to stir the moral conscience of the largest Catholic University in the United States, and would force me to rethink my values and eventually put them to the test? I have my friend and professor Paul Surlis to thank for this. It was he who suggested that I attempt to find a topic for my research paper that would somehow link theology and sport.
As I searched and searched I met dead end after dead end. Nothing quite grabbed me in a way that made we want to dig in and start writing. Then, very casually, I became aware of a potential “issue” that was of interest to me. In an edition of St. John’s Today, the official publication of St. John’s University, there was an editorial written by a fellow graduate student titled, “Michael vs. Vincent.” The writer of this editorial was very generally questioning the business relationship that existed between St. John’s and the Nike Corporation. A few days after reading this, I happened to read another article in one of the major New York publications criticizing Nike and their business practices. My interest was now piqued; I had found my topic! I did a few days of initial research and what I found astounded me.
The following week there was a response to the editorial in St. John’s Today by St. John’s Athletic Director, Ed Manetta. I was shocked at what was included in this letter. It seems he was attempting to exonerate both Nike’s business practices and the University’s relationship with Nike. At this point I had only done limited research, but was already certain that in no way were Nike’s hands clean of misdoing. I wanted to respond to Mr. Manetta’s assertions, but I wanted to have substantial evidence for the challenge I was going to make.
I assert that as a Catholic university we should not be benefiting from nor be a marketing agent for a company (Nike) that violates the social teaching of the Church and the mission of the university. To this end I have done months of research that have led me to conclude the following. 1) The Nike Corporation has been one of the grossest violators of workers rights and the entire body of Catholic Social Teaching. 2) By St. John’s being in a contract with said corporation we are in violation of the social teaching of the Church, the Catechism of the Church, the mission of the University, and the social justice implications of the Gospel.
To understand the issue at hand I believe one must first have a general understanding of why capitalism or raw capitalism is by its nature counter to the ethos of Christianity. What is raw capitalism? One might claim that raw capitalism results when the laws of a capitalist economic system are taken to their extreme. It is capitalism without conscience. It completely removes the human element; meaning that its sole concern is the maximization of profit not human or workers’ rights. It is a machine of production that when put in motion seeks a strict bottom line with no regard for ethics. Again, its only concern is the maximization of profit no matter what the cost to the environment or human beings.
If we look to CST for greater insight into how capitalism is defined we find, “…The position that defends the exclusive right to private ownership of the means of production as an untouchable ‘dogma’ of economic life.” (LE, section 14) This position however is not completely supported by the Church teaching. The right to private property is not “untouchable.”
“This right, which is fundamental for the autonomy and development of the person, has always been defended by the church up to our own day. At the same time, the church teaches that the possession of material goods is not an absolute right, and that its limits are inscribed in its very nature as a human right.” (CA, section 30)
Unfortunately the reality that occurs is when the system behind this “dogma” is set in motion, what is created is an economic machine that has one goal, the maximization of profit. In order to fully realize the potential of this goal it becomes necessary for all elements of the economic equation to be quantified or commodified. This includes the commodification of human labor. This in itself runs completely counter to the body of CST and the Christian ethic. “The Church’s teaching has always expressed the strong and deep conviction that man’s work concerns not only the economy but also, and especially, personal values. The economic system itself and the production process benefit precisely when these personal values are fully respected.” (LE section 15)
When we begin to see people as cogs in the machine of production, we run the risk of dehumanizing work and violating the Divine sanctity of those who are affected by such actions. We must constantly keep in mind that work and the economy are for persons, and not persons for work and the economy.
“In truth, however, the economy is a human reality, not one that transcends human control. The economy is a system set up by human choices, that should serve human needs, and that can be changed by human decisions.” (Thompson, 40)
We must as Christians continue to struggle to awaken people’s consciences to the fact that the “bottom line” is not the final measure of success. What are most important is that all people are treated with basic human dignity and that their basic economic needs are met to ensure this.
The issues of raw capitalism and human work become particularly interesting and complex when dealing with multi-national corporations or MNC’s.
“MNC’s are central actors in the globalization of the world economy, that is, in the increasing integration of national economies into an international market. They are not the pawns of any state, rich or poor, but independent actors, influenced by a global market which they in large part create and manipulate, and from which they profit. The global economy has become fiercely competitive and unforgiving of efficiency; it seems to transcend the control of even the most powerful governments or corporations.” (Thompson, 40)
Although I agree with the spirit of the above statement, I think it necessary to clarify that MNC’s are not completely “independent” actors. They do benefit quite a bit from their relations with the state, i.e. labor laws, use of military or police… The reality that we are faced with then is MNC’s following the rules of the economic system to their extreme and the result is raw capitalism. In doing this we see said corporations searching the world for the cheapest resources in which human labor is included. By these actions “…a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the masses of the poor a yoke little better than slavery itself.” (RN, section 2)
In searching for the cheapest resources, i.e. labor, we are faced with the question of a just wage. The logic of the system would have the dollar amount placed on wages to reflect whatever the market will bear and quite unfortunately, this is the reality that exists. Recognizing this reality, it is our duty as Christians to seek out those who take advantage of the current system and exploit human workers. We must continually struggle with this injustice and demand of corporations that they pay a just wage, a living wage.
What is a just wage or living wage? Again we can look to CST for our answer. A just wage is such that “…the remuneration must be enough to support the wage earner in reasonable and frugal comfort.” (RN, section 34) More specifically, a just wage is one that would allow the earner to procure the following for themselves and their family: food, housing, clothing, health care, and education.
This issue of wages is of paramount importance. So much so that Pope John Paul II makes the statement:
The key problem of social ethics in this case is that of just remuneration for work done. In the context of the present there is no more important way for securing a just relationship between the worker and the employer than that constituted by remuneration for work… Hence in every case a just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system and, in any case, of checking that it is functioning justly. It is not the only means of checking, but it is a particularly important one and in a sense the key means. (LE, section 19)
What we see though is case after case of this injustice, paying a substandard wage, practiced throughout the world by MNC’s. Their defense is that they are investing and creating jobs in places that otherwise would be devastated by poverty.
“MNC’s argue that they invest large amounts of capital in developing countries and bring sophisticated technology and management skills there which create jobs, produce goods and services, and increase economic growth. Critics contend that the MNC’s control capital and technology, introduce inappropriate technology (tractors instead of tillers), manipulate markets and crush cultures through advertising (infant formula instead of breast milk, Coca-Cola instead of fruit juice), and in the end take the profits home. These critics interpret such MNC operations as neo-colonialism.”(Thompson, 42)
It is this neo-colonialism that Thompson speaks of that can be so devastating to a developing country’s labor force and resources. “Whatever its national origin, a MNC seeks to maximize its own interests and those of its shareholders, rather than the interests of any country or of the poor.” (Thompson, 40) What fuels this neo-colonialism, are cheap resources, slack environmental laws and a work force that is desperate for jobs yet completely vulnerable to the whims and needs of the MNC’s. As a result of this we see vast exploitation of workers throughout developing countries. Again, MNC’s will attempt to defend their paying less than a living wage by making the claim that if they weren’t there people wouldn’t be making any wages. The harsh reality of this is, if they have to raise wages they will leave. CST speaks very strongly to such beliefs and actions. “If through necessity or fear of a worse evil, the workman accepts harder conditions because and employer or contractor will give him no better, he is the victim of force and injustice.” (RN, section 34)
Nike as an Example of Raw Capitalism
How does Nike fit the mold of an MNC using or rather exploiting the current global economic situation? Recall that one of the key elements of raw capitalism is finding the cheapest source of labor. Companies search the world for social and political climates that are conducive to such practices. The two most pressing factors that make certain countries attractive to MNC’s are 1) a labor force that is in dire need of work, 2) a labor force that is not allowed to organize and collectively bargain for better conditions and wages. Historically, based on their actions, Nike is a company that exploits these conditions.
The following, which was written by a Portland middle school student (very encouraging for the future), begins to give us some indication of Nike’s exploitative business practices.
In 1984 the $5.2 billion dollar Nike Corp. closed its last U.S. factory and moved its entire production to cheap labor in Asia. Some 65,000 Nike U.S. shoe workers lost their jobs because of the move overseas (Putnam, Internet). Making these sport shoes does benefit developing countries. It brings money jobs and some skills are shared. However, Nike’s target is not so. As Taiwan and South Korea democratized, unions became legal, and wages began to rise, Nike immediately began to look for new undeveloped havens of low wages. New operations were set up in Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Thailand. Nike now has a work force of only 8,000 employees. The 350,000 people who make their shoes in Asia (Hua, “Nike Protest Charges Abuse of Employees.”) are employed by subcontractors, not Nike. (Glenn, 1)
The above gives a general idea of how Nike operates. Nike seems to be a classic example of a neo-colonialist company. “Although MNC’s are not in the development business, their investment of capital, technology, and management skills, which can create jobs and foreign exchange for developing countries, can contribute to economic development. The question is: whose interests does this private foreign direct investment serve?” (Thompson, 40) I believe if we look at Nike’s track record we can gain greater perspective on where their interests lie and who their investment is serving. The following includes parts of the “Nike Chronology” that was compiled by Global Exchange in 1997, which documents Nike’s trend of exploitation and oppression of its worker’s rights.
Nike shoes are made in Taiwan and South Korea. When workers organize for better wages, Nike pulls out and begins production in Indonesia, the People’s Republic of China and Vietnam.
July 28, 1992
Indonesian government raises the minimum wage by 500Rp (USD $0.40) from 2,100Rp to 2,600Rp (USD $1.10). However, the Sung H Dunia factory in Indonesia fails to comply with the new minimum wage regulation by paying workers an increase of only 120 Rupiah (USD $.09) per day.
September 28, 1992
6,500 workers at the Sung Hwa Dunia factory in Indonesia stage a one day strike and demand better wages, facilities and working conditions. Some of the workers’ demands are met and all workers go back to work on September 30, 1992.
24 Indonesian workers are accused of organizing the September 28th strike and all 24 are fired.
Dusty Kidd, Director of Nike’s Labor Practices Department admits (in a press conference in 1997), “probably 80 percent of the Nike contracted factories” applied for and received minimum wage exemptions for the last two years. Nike paid workers in Indonesia below a minimum wage until April 1997.
Chinese New Year 1997
The Wellco Factory management in China pays workers half their regular wage forcing workers to go on strike until management agrees to pay their full wages.
The Assembly Production department at the Wellco factory goes on strike because they were not paid their full wages. All workers involved are fired.
April 1, 1997
The minimum wage for factories in the Jakarta area of Indonesia rise from $2.25 to $2.46 per day.
April 22, 1997
10,000 workers from the HASI factory in Indonesia go on a four-mile protest march because their paychecks do not reflect the new minimum wage increase. The management had stripped workers of an attendance bonus to offset the rising minimum wage. Workers on strike are nervous about the factory’s application for an exemption from the minimum wage. HASI had, in fact applied for the waiver, along with other Nike producing factories.
April 23, 1997
Nike agrees to pay minimum wage for Indonesian workers.
April 25, 1997
1,300 workers at the Sam Yang factory in Vietnam go on strike to request a one-cent per hour raise in their salaries. Refusing to submit to threats of termination, the workers remain behind locked gates within the factory grounds. Other issues include excessive and illegal overtime, compensation for working with hazardous material and emergency medical services for night shift workers.
April 30, 1997
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions denounces Nike operations in Indonesia and Vietnam.
May 7, 1997
1,800 workers at the Sam Yang factory in Vietnam go on strike for the management to sign a collective bargaining agreement with workers. Less than a week later, Sam Yang management states it intent to fire up to 700 workers involved in the strike.
9 workers are in jail, 300 are injured, 97 are terminated from their jobs and cases are issued against 800 workers at the Youngone factory in Bangladesh after the police disrupt a labor demonstration in the Dheli Export Processing Zone. The factory’s main buyer is Nike.
September 21, 1997
A report by two Hong Kong human rights groups cites “poor conditions” in factories. It charges that workers – mostly young women, some of them children – from rural provinces in China are forced “to put in excessive amounts of overtime to keep their jobs.” The report claims Nike violates up to 10 Chinese labor laws with respect to minimum wage, overtime, child labor and more.
November 10, 1997
Dara O’Rourke, an independent consultant with the United Nations performed environmental audits of at least 50 factories in Vietnam. During his visits, he performed walk-through audits in the factories and interviewed management personnel and interviewed workers confidentially outside the factory (O’Rourke is fluent in Vietnamese). His evaluation of the Nike Tae Kwang Vina factory revealed low pay (the lowest of all 50 factories audited), health and safety hazards, sexual harassment and violations of numerous Vietnamese labor laws. O’Rourke was leaked an internal audit performed by Nike’s accounting firm Ernst and Young by a disgruntled Nike employee. O’Rourke says Ernst and Young mistakenly reports Nike is in compliance with the Vietnamese minimum wage law of 19 cents per hour. However this internal document shows Nike pays workers… 20% below Vietnamese minimum wage law.
It seems obvious from this limited listing of facts and events that Nike business practices are exploitative. They have consistently violated the two most fundamental workers’ rights, 1) the right to a living wage, 2) the right to organize. In doing such, they have made themselves a perfect example of an MNC that takes advantage of the exploitative nature of raw capitalism. Also in doing this they have become one of the grossest violators of Catholic Social Teaching.
Nike and the US Bishops’ Economic Justice for All
While I believe Nike’s business practices to be in violation of the spirit of the entire body of CST I felt that it would serve best to focus on one particular letter. The letter I have chosen is Economic Justice for All, which was written in 1986 by the US Bishops as an analysis of the current economic situation, the injustices that are inherent to it, and possible suggestions for improving the plight of the poor and oppressed. Since Nike is an American company I felt that this particular document would do well to shed light on the injustices that are occurring within the context of an American based multi-national. To this end, I will offer commentary on a number of points that are brought up in the letter that I feel are most relevant to this discussion.
“Our faith calls us to measure this economy, not only by what it produces, but also by how it touches human life and whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person.” (Section 1) I believe this statement is the essence of Nike’s violation of CST. Their concern, as a multi-national working within a capitalist system, is the bottom line. They are to minimize costs and maximize profits. In doing so, as discussed earlier, they commodify labor and “undermine the dignity of the human person.”
The two major issues of concern with regards to Nike’s business practices are their continual failure to pay a living wage and their desire to conduct business in countries where workers are not allowed to organize and collectively bargain for basic human rights. These human rights “are the minimum conditions for life in a community. In Catholic Social teaching, human rights include not only civil and political rights but also economic rights.” (Section 17) Although Nike claims they believe in and fully support the rights of their workers, “We cannot separate what we believe from how we act in the marketplace and the broader community, for this is where we make our primary contribution to the pursuit of economic justice.” (Section 25)
To gain some perspective on the scope of the injustice of Nike’s business practices, it would serve us well to have the following information. To begin, Nike has made some strides in addressing the allegations that they are violating the rights of their workers in their Asian factories. On May 12, 1998 Phil Knight, CEO of Nike announced “New Labor Initiatives” which show promise but unfortunately do not adequately address the two areas of greatest concern, wages and the right to organize. From their report for Community Aid Abroad, “Sweating for Nike,” by Tim O’Connor and Jeff Atkinson we can learn the following about how Nike is addressing these two critical issues.
For a start, the Code and Memorandum make no mention of the right of workers to organize and to bargain collectively – although the company says it “allows independent trade unions in all of its contracted factories” (Bours 1996). These are the most fundamental of all workers rights, internationally recognized and set down by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in its Conventions Nos 87 and 98. (The ILO is an international body consisting of representatives from government, business and the union movement, which establishes international standards for workers rights.
The guidelines of the Athletic Footwear Association (AFA) mentioned above call on members to only do business with contractors whose workers are “allowed the right of free association and not exploited in any way.” Nike’s Code and Memorandum should at the very least be in line with these industry-wide guidelines.
Also needed in the Code and Memorandum is the principle that wage levels should be sufficient to allow workers to meet their basic needs for adequate food, shelter, sanitation, and health care. All they say is that contractors should comply with local regulations regarding minimum wages. But, as has been argued above, in most cases this is not enough to fulfill basic needs. Wage levels should be set by companies not on the basis of government regulation alone, but according to what is needed to allow workers and their families to have adequate diet and housing and to pay for basic necessities such as healthcare.
Along with this I will offer some other quick facts generated by the labor rights watchdog group, Global Exchange.
* Indonesian workers make $2.46 a day. 10,000 Indonesian workers went on strike to protest wages that are below subsistence level. “If I don’t work overtime, I can’t survive,” says Baltazar at PT Hasi Nike factory in Jakarta. He works an average of 40 overtime hours a week.
* Vietnamese workers make a $1.60 a day. 1,300 workers at the Sam Yang factory went on strike to demand a one cent per hour raise in wages. Other issues include excessive and illegal overtime and compensation for working with hazardous materials.
* Chinese workers make a $1.51 a day. The minimum wage in Dongguan province is $1.93 per day for eight hours of work. Nike employees get as little as $1.51. Workers are forced to work from 144-192 overtime hours per month to make ends meet.
To make things worse…
* Philip Knight, CEO of Nike is the sixth richest man in America. He is worth 5 billion dollars and profits off the backs of sweatshop laborers.
* Nike is the biggest shoe company in the world because it operates in countries where it is illegal to organize and collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions.
* Nike can afford to pay endorsers like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Monica Seles a combined total of over 60 million dollars to brand themselves with the swoosh.
Now, to view these facts in light of CST makes it all the more distressing for those of us who are committed to the social justice implications of the Gospel. By not paying a living wage and conducting business in areas where workers cannot organize, the Nike Corporation specifically violates the following sections of Economic Justice for All and generally violates the spirit of the entire body of Catholic Social teaching.
Commutative justice calls for fundamental fairness in all agreements and exchanges between individuals or private social groups. It demands respect for the equal human dignity of all persons in economic transactions, contracts, or promises. For example, workers owe their employers diligent work in exchange for their wages. Employers are obligated to treat their employees as persons, paying them fair wages in exchange for the work done and establishing conditions and patterns of work that are truly human.
…Work with adequate pay for all who seek it is the primary means of achieving basic justice.
…First among these are the rights to life, food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and basic education. These are indispensable to the protection of human dignity… Participation in the life of the community calls for the protection of this same right to employment, as well as the right to healthful working conditions, to wages, and other benefits sufficient to provide individuals and their families with a standard of living in keeping with human dignity, and to the possibility of property ownership.
…The way power is distributed in a free market economy frequently gives employers greater bargaining power than employees in the negotiation of labor contracts. Such unequal power may press workers into a choice between an inadequate wage and no wage at all. But justice, not charity, demands certain minimum guarantees. The provision of wages and other benefits sufficient to support a family in dignity is a basic necessity to prevent this exploitation of workers. The dignity of workers also requires adequate health care, security for old age or disability, unemployment compensation, healthful working conditions, weekly rest, periodic holidays for recreation and leisure, and reasonable security against arbitrary dismissal. These provisions are all essential if workers are to be treated as persons rather than simply as a “factor of production.”
The Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions. This is a specific application of the more general right to associate. In the words of Pope John Paul II, “The experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies”… No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself.
Denial of the right to organize has been pursued ruthlessly in many countries beyond our borders. We vehemently oppose violations of the freedom to associate, wherever they occur, for they are an intolerable act on social solidarity.
Large corporations and large financial institutions have considerable power to help shape economic institutions within the United States and throughout the world. With this power goes responsibility and the need for those who manage it to be held to moral and institutional accountability.
In this arena, where fact and ethical challenges intersect, the moral task is to devise rules for the major actors that will move them toward a just international order. One of the most vexing problems is that of reconciling the transnational corporations’ profit orientation with the common good that they, along with governments and their multilateral agencies, are supposed to serve.
…Foreign investors, attracted by low wage rates in less developed countries, should consider both potential loss of jobs in the home country and the potential exploitation of workers in the host country.
…Although the ability of the corporations to plan, operate, and communicate across national borders without concern for domestic considerations makes it harder for governments to direct their activities toward the common good, the effort should be made; the Christian ethic is incompatible with a primary or exclusive focus on maximization of profit.
With the above sections of CST fresh in mind, it seems quite obvious that Nike is a long way from living up to the standards set by CST. It is for this reason that I have grave concern with the current relationship between Nike and St. John’s University. In the section that follows I shall explore this in greater detail.
Nike and their Partnership with St. John’s University
For those of you not familiar with St. John’s University please allow me to share with you an excerpt of the university mission statement.
St. John’s is a Catholic university, founded in 1870 in response to an invitation of the first Bishop of Brooklyn, John Loughlin, to provide the youth of the city with an intellectual and moral education. WE embrace the Judeo-Christian ideals of respect for the rights and dignity of every person and each individual’s responsibility for the world in which we live. We commit ourselves to create a climate patterned on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ as embodied in the traditions and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Our community which comprises members of many faiths, strives for an openness which is “wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous, or worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). Thus, the university is a place where the church reflects upon itself and the world as it engages in dialogue with other religious traditions.
St. John’s is a Vincentian university, inspired by St. Vincent de Paul’s compassion and zeal for service. We strive to provide excellent education for all people, especially those lacking economic, physical, or social advantages. Community service programs combine with reflective learning to enlarge the classroom experience. Wherever possible, we devote our intellectual and physical resources to search out the causes of poverty and social injustice and to encourage solutions which are adaptable, effective, and concrete. In the Vincentian tradition, we seek to foster a world view and to further efforts toward global harmony and development, by creating an atmosphere in which all may imbibe and embody the spirit of compassionate concern for others so characteristic of Vincent. (Mission Statement of St. John’s University.
It is because of this consistent claim to following the Vincentian ideal that is so committed to searching out the “causes of poverty and social injustice” that makes St. John’s contract with Nike so distressing. As one can see from the section on Nike and CST above, Nike is most definitely in violation of the social teaching of the Church. How then can the largest Catholic university in the west allow themselves to be prostituted as a promoting agent by said company? It would seem that Nike is no more concerned with the mission of the Vincentians than they are with paying a living wage! How are we at St. John’s allowing ourselves and our mission to be compromised?
I will offer this example for you to ponder. Let us imagine that Planned Parenthood, one of the largest suppliers of abortions in the United States was to offer St. John’s 3.5 million dollars for their pharmacy school. I would have to imagine that St. John’s, citing the moral teaching of the Church, would claim that accepting these funds would compromise the integrity of the university. Another example, perhaps a well-known organized crime family were to offer St. John’s 3.5 million dollars to build a new chapel. I would hope that again, University officials would feel that entering such a relationship would seriously compromise the integrity of the University and they would decline. Why then is there this compromise of the Christian ethic when it comes to the Nike Corporation?
I have my own theory as to why the administration is so quick to defend and attempt to vindicate the Nike Corporation. They want the money! Also, I am quite sure that the administration is somewhat concerned and embarrassed that this issue was brought to light by a number of graduate and undergraduate students. Therefore, to save face, they have entered into months long scrambling and avoidance of the issue hoping that Nike will come around or that we, the activists, will go away. Unfortunately for them neither has occurred.
To be honest I am very troubled and confused as to how the administration can morally justify our relationship with the Nike Corporation. Perhaps if the following questions were answered I might have a better understanding of their position.
1. Is it morally acceptable for workers to be paid less than a living wage?
2. Is it morally acceptable for workers to be refused to right to organize and collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions?
3. Are both of these basic human rights, the refusal to pay a living wage and not allowing workers to organize violations of the social teaching of the Church?
4. Is it morally acceptable to benefit from a company that violates the rights of its workers and maximizes its profits by doing so?
5. Are we not benefiting from such a situation by being in a relationship with the Nike Corporation?
6. If Nike’s business practices are morally unacceptable is it not our Christian duty to publicly pressure them into change?
7. What are we specifically going to do to try and change Nike?
8. Is it true that there is an anti-defamation clause in our contract, as is standard in all Nike’s contracts with universities, that does not allow coaches or administrators to be publicly critical of Nike?
9. If there is such a clause, does this not limit our academic freedom, our ability to be publicly critical, and an individual’s right to dissent? And, if Nike’s labor practices are as good as Phil Knight says why is this clause necessary?
I am very interested to know the answers to these questions, as I believe they define
the parameters of the issue at hand. On a more personal note, I want the answers to these questions, because it was on these that I was forced to make a most difficult decision.
Saying no to Nike, a Matter of Conscience
The decision was to wear Nike and drop the issue, or resign. I was given this ultimatum in May by one of the athletic administrators. Ironically, on that same day, May 12, 1998, Phil Knight held his press conference to announce his “New Labor Initiatives.” At first I was elated by the news. I believed Nike had come around and my conscience could rest easy knowing our University was in a contract with a company that was committed to justice, specifically to worker’s rights. Unfortunately as I read though the transcripts of the press conference it became distressingly obvious that Nike had not significantly addressed the issues of wages or the workers’ rights to organize. Therefore, I decided the issue could not be dropped. The dialogue must continue. The University must be publicly pressured to reconcile how we can remain in this contract and stay committed to our mission and the social justice implications of the Gospel.
All of this lay heavy on my conscience. I was a coach for one of the most successful college soccer programs of the 1990’s. I truly felt that in the coming year, with the team we had returning, that I would be able to realize the dream as a coach that I did not realize myself as a player; to win an NCAA championship. Now I was faced with the challenge of putting this dream on the line.
I couldn’t believe that I was being forced to make this decision. I believed and still do that I was following the true spirit of the mission of university and the Gospel by making this a public issue. I had no idea what consequences these actions would hold. I simply could not allow myself to sit back while our Catholic university was benefiting from profits made on the backs of the poor.
Now was the time to decide how committed I was to the cause. The decision was laid before me. Show your allegiance to a company that violates the body of CST and the mission of the university or show your allegiance to the pursuit of the social justice implications of the Gospel. I wish I could say the choice was easy. Thanks to God, through prayer and reflection the truth pierced through to my heart of hearts and I knew what had to be done. I resigned.
O’Brien, D.J., and Shannon, T.A., Catholic Social Thought: The Documentary Heritage; Maryknoll, (New York 1997).
Thompson, J. Millburn, Justice and Peace: A Christian Primer; Maryknoll, (New York 1997).
Advocate Jim Keady can sum up what’s wrong with the Nike Corporation in two words.
“Nike lies,” he said in his presentation his recent Great Issues Committee speech.
Keady has been campaigning against Nike and their use of sweatshops for the past fifteen years, presenting at numerous high schools and colleges around the country about the many human rights grievances Nike commits. He has created quite a stir for the popular sports apparel company, but Keady’s motivation is not the trouble he causes. His inspiration instead comes from a foundation of Catholic social teaching.
“I consider myself a liberation theologian,” said Keady, “And I believe if Jesus the revolutionary was around in 2010, he would be in place like Indonesia.”
Indonesia is one of several countries that hosts Nike sweatshops, a fact Keady learned while doing research for a paper as a graduate student at St. John’s University. At the time, Keady was also coaching the men’s soccer team at St. John’s. Nike sponsored the team, and as Keady learned more about the practices occurring in Nike factories, he came to believe that this partnership contradicted the school’s Catholic mission.
When he became vocal about his belief, the school gave him a choice.
“I was given an ultimatum. ‘Wear Nike and drop the issue…or resign’,” Keady said.
Rather than consent to a system that he was morally against, Keady resigned. Since then, he has made it his mission to raise awareness about Nike sweatshops and social justice.
“Ninety-five percent of the stuff we are wearing right now was made under sweatshop conditions,” said Keady.
In a large number of Nike factories, workers are not paid a living wage and usually have to work overtime just to make ends meet. Their living and working conditions are subpar and many workers are harassed in the workplace. Workers who try to unionize effectively are often verbally and physically intimidated and raises in salary are practically unheard of. Keady said that these conditions are not only morally wrong, but deny the human dignity of the factory employees.
“But we have seen some progress,” Keady said. “One area we have seen progress is with this issue of menstrual leave.”
By law, Indonesian women are allowed two days off when they are menstruating. In the sweatshops, however, women were required to prove this to their supervisors before they were given leave.
“But because of outrage from students like you,” said Keady, “In the ten factories I have been actively monitoring in Indonesia, this has stopped.”
Keady also stated that thanks to the activities of students, progress has been made in way of union organizing. By implementing unions, workers have a better chance of improving working conditions.
There are still areas that Keady would like to see improve. One of his current primary concerns is how Nike’s scrap rubber is disposed of. Most of the rubber is burned, creating numerous environmental and health hazards. Despite having visited and documented the dumping and burning sites, Keady has had a difficult time getting Nike to acknowledge this practice.
“This is public relations 101: tell people we are doing good things that are related to the issue we are being criticized on, and then override the credibility of whoever is criticizing us,” Keady said of Nike’s press releases regarding this issue.
Keady would also like Nike to raise the wages of the factory workers. For them to actually have a living wage, their current wage of about $1.25 a day would need to be tripled.
“Labor is not a commodity,” Keady said. “Labor is people. They are not just cogs in the machine of production. They are people with human dignity.”
For real improvements in policy, however, Keady stressed the importance of student activism, especially on campuses like Saint Louis University whose sports teams partner with Nike.
“Our student athletes are being prostituted by athletic directors and our coaches, turned into walking advertisements,” said Keady, “Does anyone know what [Rick Majerus’s] personal service agreement with Nike entails? Do we want Saint Louis University represented at a Nike events?”
Keady stated that any real change would not happen at the top with famous athletes and sports teams, but at the bottom with people and students who really care.
“Students are not just consumers, they’re citizens. So along with trying to support companies who are doing the right thing, you need to civically engage the companies who are not doing the right thing,” Keady said. “This isn’t just about assuaging your Catholic guilt by buying fair trade. You’ve got to do the activism as well.”
Keady closed his speech by encouraging students to support his campaign, or at least become activists for another issue they feel passionate about.
“The speech was very intriguing,” sophomore Anne Marie Batzel said. “As a business major, I’m interested in cooperate. I think we need to create change and do the right thing in situations like these.”
I am in the midst of writing my book, “SWEAT” and I came across I speech I gave in the summer of 1999 on the steps of the Department of Labor in Washington, DC. This was at a rally that was organized by the United Students Against Sweatshops (www.usas.org) in protest of the Apparel Industry Partnership, a corporate front group that was established by President Clinton. After I gave this speech, I was approached by Joel Joseph, a labor attorney who happened to be in the crowd. It was Mr. Joseph who helped me file my lawsuit against St. John’s and Nike (which I eventually lost on appeal) and through that action, we brought the Nike sweatshop issue to the masses. This speech was a major catalyst for where I am at today in terms of this work.
Given how much time has passed since these early days of my involvement with this issue, it is nice to remind myself and our Team Sweat supporters, why we are in this fight for justice.
The speech is below. I hope you enjoy it.
Peace, Jim Keady
Good afternoon, my name is Jim Keady and I am here today to tell you about my story with Nike. In July of 1997 I began as an assistant coach of the Men’s soccer team at St. John’s University. It was a coaching dream. I had joined the staff of one of the hottest college soccer programs of the 90’s fresh off their 1996 NCAA Division 1 National Championship.
Along with my coaching, I began pursuing a master’s degree in theology. In one of my classes I was working on a paper that was examining Nike’s labor practices in light of moral theology. Simultaneously St. John’s University was negotiating a multi-million dollar contract with the Nike Corporation that would supply equipment and funding to all of the university’s athletic teams.
I took serious issue with this impending deal. I had done months of research that led me to conclude the following. 1) The Nike Corporation has been one of the grossest violators of workers rights. 2) By St. John’s being in a contract with this corporation we are an indirect enabler of Nike’s injustices; we are in violation of the mission of the University and the social justice implications of the Gospel.
Therefore I asserted, that as a Catholic university, we should not be benefiting from nor be a marketing agent for Nike. This was a contract that was estimated in excess of 3.5 million dollars in product and cash. This money was most certainly made on the backs of the poor. I personally did not want to be a billboard for a company whose business practices are unethical and promote injustice; a company that has consistently chosen the maximization of profit over human dignity.
Knowing that this issue was of crucial importance I decided that it must be pursued in the public realm. When I first began this, it was only a research paper. I had no idea of the incredible journey on which it would lead me. What started as a simple research paper, hoping to link moral theology and sport, turned into a hard life lesson in big money power and politics. The issue, whether or not St. John’s should be in a relationship with Nike, went public in the student newspaper on February 22, 1998. From that day it became and still is one of the most hotly debated topics in the schools recent history. News of this spread from our small campus in Queens and news stories and editorials on this issue at St. John’s have appeared in the New York Times, Newsday, the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer and most recently the story has been syndicated nationally by the associated press.
By pursuing this publicly, my actions would cost me. In mid-May of 1998 I was given an ultimatum by University officials, wear Nike and drop the issue, or resign.
I was deeply troubled by this. I knew from my research that Nike had not significantly addressed the issues of wages or the workers’ rights to organize. Therefore, I decided the issue could not be dropped. The dialogue must continue. The University must be publicly pressured to reconcile how we can remain in this contract and stay committed to our mission and the social justice implications of the Gospel.
All of this lay heavy on my conscience. I was a coach for one of the most successful college soccer programs of the 1990’s. I truly felt that in the coming year, with the team we had returning, that I would be able to realize the dream as a coach that I did not realize myself as a player; to win an NCAA championship. Now I was faced with the challenge of putting this dream on the line.
I couldn’t believe that I was being forced to make this decision. I believed and still do that I was following the true spirit of the mission of university and the Gospel by making this a public issue. I had no idea what consequences these actions would hold. I simply could not allow myself to sit back while our Catholic University was benefiting from profits made on the backs of the poor.
Now was the time to decide how committed I was to the cause. The decision was laid before me. Show your allegiance to a company that violates basic human and workers’ rights or show your allegiance to the pursuit of social justice. I wish I could say the choice was easy. Thanks to God, through prayer and reflection the truth pierced through to my heart of hearts and I knew what had to be done. I resigned.
Through my resignation I stand here today in solidarity with the oppressed factory workers.
There is something-dishonest going on here. Phil Knight, president and CEO of Nike, is one of the richest men in America, while workers in his SE Asian and Central American factories scrape by on starvation wages. There is a disparity evident here that cannot be ignored. There is a theme of exploitation that permeates the entirety of the Nike Corporation. It begins in production, with the exploitation of the workers. It extends to promotion, where high schools, colleges and entire communities are colonized by the Nike marketing machine. From here it moves to the personal level, which I took issue with, as athletes and coaches either by choice or by force are turned into walking billboards. Finally it reaches you, the consumer, who are charged exorbitant prices for shoes that on average cost $16 to produce.
I hope together we stand in protest of this exploitation. We stand in solidarity against the injustices that oppress worker, athlete and consumer.
This issue is so crucial. There are two extremes diametrically opposed to each other here. First is the adherence to the iron-bound law of capitalism, which states that ever-increasing profit is to be achieved no matter what the costs to humanity or nature. In contrast to this is the law of humanity, which espouses that nothing; no profit, no product and particularly no sneaker, is worth more than the dignity of the human person. To paraphrase sentiments of Mahatma Gandhi which seem to echo truth here. Nike is at the crossroads. They now have to make their choice between the law of the jungle and the law of humanity.
Nike is surely not alone in their actions. Companies like Nike, Phillips Van Heusen, Reebok, the Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, K-Mart and Wal-mart are but a few examples of countless companies that chose profit over the common good. These companies are quick to share with you the slightest improvement in conditions in their factories, improvements that are usually nothing more than propagandist smokescreens created by well-paid public relations firms. Such actions are futile attempts to hide the plight of underpaid, overworked factory employees.
Employees who are paid poverty-level wages; who are forced to work long hours and not even come close to meeting their basic needs; who are forced to work overtime and are unpaid for such work; who are forced to work mandatory overnight shifts; are illegally denied health care and benefits; are denied legal benefits; are at times underage; are forced to work in factories that do not meet health and safety standards; and are denied their rights to organize and to free speech.
Today we stand in solidarity with these workers. We stand here in protest of their exploitation and as a messenger to these corporations, to our university administrations, the Apparel Industry Partnership and to the United States government that the blood the workers have shed to ensure basic human dignity and justice has not been shed in vain.
We call all persons who take part in the exploitation of workers to examine their conscience. We also call all persons who struggle for justice for these workers to keep a hopeful eye on the future. We must know that despite the system of oppression that ominously permeates the global marketplace, there is nothing that can subdue the power of the human spirit.
We can, we will, and we must through the power of love, reshape our world, so that dividends and profit margins are not the standard by which we judge success. But rather, we strive for the establishment of a global community where success would be measured by the guarantee that each and every person will be ensured their God-given dignity.
Are you interested in bringing my “Behind the Swoosh: Sweatshops and Social Justice” program to your school or community this year?
I have shared “Behind the Swoosh: Sweatshops and Social Justice,” on more than 450 campuses in 41 states and in three different countries and it is shaping up to be another busy year for me. With the latest developments at the University of WI-Madison and Cornell University – both cut contracts with Nike this year over the sweatshop issue – many schools are interested in getting the most up-to-date information and analysis on this topic.
If you would like more information or if you are interested in hosting my program, email me back and I will connect you with my booking agent to discuss available dates, fees, etc. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.
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.
By Ellie Faulkner
Published: Thursday, May 6, 2010
The Vista, University of San Diego
In a search for the truth about Nike’s labor practices, Jim Keady spent time in Indonesia to see what working as one of Nike’s factory workers was really like. He lived on $1.25 a day and resided in what he described as a “9 feet by 9 feet cement block” worker’s slum. Huge rats were frequent houseguests and the open sewage system flowed right next to the sidewalk outside. Over the course of a month there, he lost 25 pounds. His reasoning for embarking on the crusade in Nike’s sweatshops stems from his studies as well as his interests.
Back in 1997, Keady was a soccer coach at St. John’s University while simultaneously working towards his masters in theology. A class assignment led him to research how Nike’s labor practices violate human rights. Concurrently, St. John’s was negotiating a $3.5 million endorsement deal with Nike, meaning that he, as a coach, would be required to wear and endorse Nike. Keady realized that it would be hypocritical for a Catholic school, supposedly an institution of Catholic social thought, to partner itself with a transnational sports empire that was violating human rights. This realization turned to activism and he lost his coaching job because he refused to drop the issue and wear Nike. Soon after, he embarked on his life-changing trip to Indonesia and formed Team Sweat, an organization committed to changing Nike’s labor practices.
Nike currently employs a million workers in 1,000 factories across 52 different countries. When Keady tried to ask Nike about their labor policies, he was met with subterfuge and lies. He pursued answers through many different divisions of the company, and even tried to set up a meeting with Phil Knight, the former CEO of Nike. Often he was turned away, and when he did receive an answer, the information was often conflicting. Nike would like to have the public believe that they have cleaned up their act, but Keady said he went to Indonesia, saw the reality of Nike sweatshops with his own eyes, and made a short film about his time there. It can be viewed at vimeo.com/6109896.
It should also be noted that Nike is not the only company that uses sweatshops; sweatshops are the reality of most modern apparel production. Nike was simply the company that first caught Keady’s attention and he chose to make an example of it for four reasons, as listed on his website, teamsweat.org.
First, Nike is the leader in the sportswear industry. They control roughly 45 percent of the global market. Second, Nike led the push into low wage countries with poor human rights records. They exploited, and continue to exploit, these countries for their cheap labor. Third, labor abuses in Nike factories have been extensively and reliably documented over a 15-year period. There is no other company for which there is this much objective research. Finally, as the company with the largest profit margins in the industry ($1.5 billion in profits in 2008) Nike can more easily afford to ensure living wages and fair working conditions in their factories.
However, the mission is not to boycott Nike. Although Keady feels it would be effective, the factory workers themselves have not asked for a boycott. The mission is to put continued pressure on Nike to change their labor policies by educating people about the sweatshop situation.
If Keady’s organization, Team Sweat, is able to put enough pressure on Nike to clean up their act, then the same model of change can be replicated to change other companies and eventually the entire industry.
“The thing that I took away from the talk was that Nike is simply a case study and the largest corporation that owns sweatshops,” junior JaRae Birkeland said. “Plenty of other companies do the exact same thing. Adidas, Puma, Abercrombie, etcetera, all have sweatshops in Southeast Asia and other third world countries. Advocating against the Nike company is important but so is putting up a front against other companies as well and leaning towards purchasing fair trade products.”
When Keady presented this breakdown to a manager at an Indonesian factory, the manager said, “Hang on, they [Nike] only pay us $10 to $11 for a pair of shoes?” Even worse, upon further examination and number crunching, Keady found that to double the workers wages, in essence paying them about $5 per day instead of $2.43 per day, it would only cost Nike about seven percent of their advertising budget. There was silence in the room after Keady shared this.
Nike is a $18.6 billion dollar corporation, and if Nike would spare 7 percent of their advertising budget, they could double the wages that their workers receive and hence pay them a fair livable wage.
“One example that really shocked me and stuck with me was about how much Tiger Woods makes in one game of golf just by wearing Nike,” Birkeland said. “Tiger Woods is worth more than 700,000 workers and makes enough in one second of time to buy an Indonesian worker a house.”
It would take a Nike factory worker in Indonesia 9.5 years to make as much as Tiger makes for playing one round of golf clothed in Nike. Students wondered what this says about how North America measures the worth of a person.
Another poignant moment during the presentation was when Keady displayed a picture of Nike’s logo emblazoned alongside our school’s logo on merchandise from the bookstore.
“It was not the most comfortable part of the presentation because it shocked me,” junior Ryann Berens said. “The entire room as well kind of gasped and shifted in their seats. This is when the reality of the situation hit home and made it personal.”
Keady said that Nike is aiming to partner itself with Catholic schools because they want to associate themselves with places of Catholic teaching; it is a strategic public relations move.
So what can USD students do? Keady emphasized that the wrong question to ask is, “Okay where can I buy garments that are sweat free?” or “What brand can our athletics department wear instead?” He said that Team Sweat’s campaign is “not about assuaging your Catholic guilt.”
The campaign is not about helping you feel better about what you buy. What he would instead like people to ask themselves is, “How can I build solidarity with the workers and put pressure on Nike that will eventually eliminate sweatshops?” He encouraged the audience to write the current Nike CEO, Mike Parker, an email telling him about their concern for Nike’s factory workers (at Mike.Parker@nike.com). Tell people you know, hold demonstrations, and donate to Team Sweat so they can get the message out to more people.
Join the facebook group at facebook.com/teamsweat. In this campaign, education is power and the more people that know about Nike’s human rights violations, the more pressure it will put on Nike to change.
Slowly but surely, Keady said he has seen this approach create progress over the last 13 years.
I am writing to let you know that my speaking tour calendar is filing up for the spring semester. I am currently booked to speak in Washington, Arizona, Missouri, New Jersey, Indiana, New York, and Florida. I am also in discussions with schools in Rhode Island, Maryland, California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Connecticut, Illinois, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana.
If you are interested in bringing “Behind the Swoosh: Sweatshops and Social Justice” to your campus, please email me at email@example.com or call me at 732.988.7322.
I want to thank all of the students and staff that attended my “Behind the Swoosh” lectures last week at Bucknell University (PA) and Willamette University (OR). Special thanks to Sithanda Ntuka and David Kristjanson-Gural for organizing the event at Bucknell and special thanks also to Chase Wiggins and Kate Snurr for organizing the event at Willamette!
And here is a double special shout-out to all the students in the Social Justice College at Bucknell!
JIM KEADY, Founder of Team Sweat
Twelve years ago this month I got involved in the fight to end Nike’s sweatshop abuses. Twelve years is one third of my life. It’s somewhat surreal when I think of it like that.
In 1997, I was in my first season as a graduate assistant coach with the Men’s Soccer Team at St. John’s University, the defending NCAA Division I National Champions. Along with my coaching, I was pursuing a masters degree in Theology. For one of my first classes, I was charged with writing a research paper linking moral theology and sports. I researched Nike’s sweatshops in light of Catholic Social Teaching. Simultaneously, the SJU Athletic Department was negotiating a $3,500,000.00 million dollar endorsement contract with Nike.
Within six months I was at the center of a campus-wide debate over whether SJU should ink the deal. Within ten months I was given an ultimatum by my head coach, “Wear Nike and drop this issue, or resign.”
I resigned in protest and became the first (and still the only) athlete or coach in the world to say “no” to taking part in a Nike endorsement deal because of their sweatshop abuses.
The NY Times and the AP Wire picked up my story and I became an instant expert on the sweatshop issue. My critics charged that those were “great jobs for those poor people” and that “you can live like a king on a sweatshop wage in places like Indonesia.” I knew from my research that they were wrong, but I wanted to prove it.
In July 2000 I lived with Nike factory workers in Indonesia. I lived in conditions they lived in and on the wages they paid - $1.25 a day. I lost 25lbs in a month in a rat-infested slum in Tangerang, Indonesia, home to tens of thousands of the women and men who produce the Nike sneakers adored by so many athletes and consumers.
Following that initial immersion in 2000, I conducted field research in 2001, 2002, 2008 and 2009; I took part in demonstrations on three continents; I met with an Indonesian President (Wahid) and members of the U.S. Congress; I led workshops and listening sessions with Nike workers from a dozen factories in Bekasi, Bogor, Bandung, Balaraja, Tangerang, and Jakarta; I lobbied Nike shareholders and was escorted by police from at least one shareholder meeting; I produced a short documentary, “Behind the Swoosh” and am currently producing a feature documentary and writing a book, both under the title, SWEAT; I lectured at more than 400 schools in 39 states and in three different countries; and I met with representatives from Nike at all levels, including Nike founder and chairman, Phil Knight.
Has there been any progress? Has anything changed?
Yes. For example, because of the pressure that was placed on Nike by consumers, women workers no longer have to prove they are menstruating to get their legally guaranteed leave. Also, workers are no longer beaten with machetes or threatened at gunpoint for union organizing activity.
However, while we have seen the progress mentioned above, we still have no movement on the two most important issues - Nike workers are still being paid a poverty wage and Nike still refuses to bargain with their workers in good faith.
Because Nike has lied about working conditions and many consumers, even so-called progressives, believe that Nike “fixed those sweatshop problems.” They did not.
How do I know?
I was in Indonesia as recently as August 2009 and in my meetings with workers I heard all too familiar stories of inadequate wages, forced overtime, illegal firings for union organizing, workers being cheated out of pay, etc.
In part, what made this trip slightly different, was that Caitlin Morris, Nike’s Director of Sustainable Business and Innovation, accompanied me. So now, when I put forth a charge about Nike’s sweatshop abuses, Nike cannot say it isn’t true as Ms. Morris was in the room with me when the latest round of videotaped allegations were made.
Now, some may want to give Nike a tremendous amount of credit for sending Ms. Morris to Indonesia with me and for taking action on the aforementioned menstrual leave and union organizing issues. I give Nike no credit for these. Why? Because Nike did not make any of these improvements voluntarily; they needed to be publicly embarrassed and pilloried to make each of these changes. Congratulating Nike for discontinuing these corporate crimes would be like congratulating a thief for no longer stealing or congratulating a rapist for no longer raping.
So, what do we do to get Nike to take action on the wage and collective bargaining issues? The same stuff we did to get them to move on the other human rights violations.
We engage, we demonstrate, we publicly embarrass, and we organize, organize, organize!
The October 19th edition of Forbes Magazine announced the Forbes 400 Revolutionaries, men and women whom Forbes considers “captains of capitalism (who) built a product, created a market or satisfied a need that touches us all.”
Topping this list is Nike founder and chairman, Phil Knight. Forbes noted that the 71-year-old Knight has created the largest sportswear company in the world with $19,200,000,000.00 in sales last year and that Knight has a personal net worth of $9,500,000,000.00 - $6,000,000,000.00 of which is in Nike stock.
What Forbes neglected to mention is that Mr. Knight’s wealth has been amassed on the backs of mostly young women in Asia who, despite producing his products for 20 years, still live in abject poverty.
If we use the lens of history as our guide, Phil Knight is doing nothing new. To make himself really rich, he is exploiting the poverty, lack of education, and desperation of marginalized people. What exactly is “revolutionary” about taking advantage of the poor for selfish financial gain? Before Mr. Knight, this path was paved well by the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, the robber barons of industrial Europe, and the slave masters of the American south.
Rather than praise Mr. Knight’s unjust actions, people of good will should challenge him. An excellent place to start would be with the words of the Hebrew prophet, Jeremiah.
“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper room by injustice; who makes neighbor serve him for nothing, and does not give him his wages… you have eyes and heart only for your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence.” (Jeremiah 22)
If Mr. Knight were to act justly in light of this prophetic warning, that would warrant his being called a revolutionary.
The writer is the Director of Educating for Justice, Inc. and for 12 years has engaged Mr. Knight and Nike regarding fair wages for factory workers. To learn more about Mr. Keady’s work on this issue, visit www.teamsweat.org.
Poverty affects millions (billions?) of people worldwide, including people living in “developed” countries. There are numerous social consequences of poverty that impact all of us, even if we aren’t poor. In this episode of Fitness Rocks I briefly discuss a paper from the Journal of the American Medical Associationabout why we should care about people living in poverty who suffer poor health. The bottom line is that their poor health becomes a risk for your health – listen to the podcast to hear how that works.
I also have an interview with Jim Keady of TeamSweat.org in this episode. Jim talks about his work on behalf of Indonesian factory workers over the past twelve years. These people, according to Jim who has lived among them, are living in horrible conditions while they work in factories making products for Nike.
I tried to get a representative from Nike to do a telephone interview telling their side of Jim Keady’s story, but my request was denied. If you are a Nike representative, the offer to come on Fitness Rocks is always open. I like Nike products and I want to keep buying them – please convince me, and everybody else, that there is no ethical reason why I should avoid your products.
I urge you to watch the twenty-minute video called Behind the Swoosh. It is a video documentary of Jim’s experience living in an Indonesian slum on $1.25 per day.
Poverty is not a liberal or a conservative issue. It is a global issue with negative consequences that affect everybody. Fitness Rocks is a health and fitness podcast so I focus my discussion on how Poverty creates health risks for people around the world, including you.
I am NOT responsible for the opinions or data presented by Jim Keady in Fitness Rocks Podcast 144. I am merely a person interested in the work Jim Keady is doing, and I want to share his story with people who listen to Fitness Rocks. I am not accusing Nike of anything, but I would like to hear their response to Jim’s report from Indonesia.
Former Collegiate Athlete/Coach Takes on Nike’s Third World Labor Practices
Jim Keady was a coach with St. John’s University’s 1997 national champion men’s soccer team which given the ultimatum to either stop questioning Nike’s labor practices or resign.
Jim Keady has made a living from calling out Nike and the other sportswear-manufacturing giants for their alleged exploitation of labor in Third World countries.
The former collegiate athlete and coach will speak at Wilmington College Oct. 8, at 7:30 p.m., in Heiland Theatre.
The event, which is free of charge, is the second of four programs in WC’s 2009-10 Issues & Artists Series.
In his presentation, titled “Behind the Swoosh: Sweatshops and Social Justice,” Keady will relate the story of losing his coaching job at St. John’s University for challenging Nike’s “sweatshop labor” practices. He has since made the issue of worker exploitation his life’s mission.
In the summer of 2000, he lived with factory workers in an Indonesian slum, trying to survive on their wage of 23 cents an hour. There he documented what workers’ lives are really like.
“I lived in a 9×9 box, sleeping on a reed mat on a cement floor for 30 days,” said Keady, “I lost 25 pounds trying live like a Nike factory worker.”
Since that initial trip, Keady has returned to Indonesia on multiple occasions, most recently in January 2008, to learn more about Nike’s overseas operations.
He has also taken part in grassroots campaigns and demonstrations on three continents that were focused on raising consumers’ awareness about Nike’s sweatshops.
He is currently producing and directing a feature documentary film about Nike’s operations in Indonesia called SWEAT.
Check out “Steve Runner’s” Phedippidations PodCast . This week TEAM SWEAT is the feature story. Steve’s show goes out to 10,000 runners around the world. The show just went up this morning and already we have been flooded with runners interested in joining the fight to end Nike’s sweatshop abuses.
I am currently looking for schools to fill out my lecture calendar for the spring semester. If you would like to bring “Behind the Swoosh: Sweatshops and Social Justice” to your school, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 732.988.7322. For more information about the program, click on the LEARN tab on the teamsweat.org homepage.
Here is a listing of where I will be this semester and the available dates:
February 3rd, 4th, 5th OPEN
February 10th Georgia Southern (GA)
February 11th Florida Gulf Coast (FL)
February 12th OPEN
February 17th, 18th, 19th OPEN
February 24th, 25th, 26th OPEN
March 3rd OPEN
March 4th Southern Connecticut State (CT)
March 5th OPEN
March 10th Franklin Pierce (NH)
March 11th Southern New Hampshire (NH)
March 12th Canisius (NY)
March 17th, 18th, 19th OPEN
March 24th OPEN
March 25th Wheelock College (MA)
March 31st OPEN
April 1st Shippensburg University (PA)
April 2nd OPEN
April 7th UNC-Charlotte (NC)
April 8th, 9th OPEN
April 14th, 15th, 16th OPEN
April 21st, 22nd, 23rd OPEN
April 28th OPEN
April 29th Creighton University (NE)
April 30th OPEN