Friday, July 03, 2009

The Durability of Nike’s Sweatshops

Nike is turning a blind eye to labor abuses in Vietnam factories that mass produce Nike’s athletic shoes and other sports equipment for export. That’s a finding of on-site research in Vietnam conducted after a strike last year by 20,000 workers in Nike’s supplier factories there.

A three-person team from Denmark that did the investigation spoke directly, and secretly, with the workers, including a low-level supervisor, “Mr. T,” who had presented the worker demand for a pay increase to management.

The Danish Consumer Council, which sponsored the investigation jointly with 10 other organisations, published a feature article on the research in its magazine. One specific finding is really nothing new: that the government/Communist Party apparatus of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has its own “union,” and is hostile to any organization and worker activity independent of the government/party-run union.

What is new in the report is evidence that the Nike’s business operation within the Communist system conflicts with Nike’s own code of conduct and tarnishes its own self-image as a decent company.

A company like Nike ought to “make sure that no workers are inappropriately punished for their participation in a strike,” says Tim Connor, labor rights coordinator for Oxfam/Australia.

In Vietnam, uniformed police, called in by management, successfully broke the strike through ruthless tactics that included firing 100 leaders of an underground movement that promoted it. (Nike says there were no firings.} According to an internal Nike document and the testimony of Mr. T and others, Nike stayed on the sidelines while the police quashed the strike and the movement.

On the surface, the strike was triggered only by the demand for a living wage. Yet, as usual in such circumstances, other grievances fueled the walkout. When a worker fails to meet her production quota, for example, she is hit with a 15% deduction of her monthly pay. Workers assemble shoes with toxic glue, with a bonus for tolerating headaches and other possible effects.

For more information on the conduct of Nike and other brand-name companies, see http://www.consumersinternational.org/.

I learned of the Danish report through one of the regular contributions that Jeff Ballinger makes to lists maintained by Oxfam Australia.

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5 comments:

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jerry john said...

Great piece, David. I shared it on Facebook. Roberts may have saved his reputation with some but his decision clearly does precisely what you say it does. All the more reason to be sure that we don't give Romney the power to appoint justices. Most of the press commentary seems to simply be done by people with no serious knowledge of constitutional law. It is amazing how many people are willing to pop off on this even though they have obviously not either read the whole decision nor understood the legal consequences of Roberts' nonsense. I do think that Ginsburg's opinion gets it mostly right. The dissenters are engaging in pure sophistry. Thanks for your contribution. James Dreesen

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