Nike Sweatshops: Behind the Swoosh

1. Trying to get the workers in Indonesia fair wages is not really inflicting Western values on them. Perhaps it is inflicting justice and fairness, but those are not just Western values. Every human wants to be treated fairly. It is a universal desire. Nike brought the Western values of greed and sweatshop slavery to the people of Indonesia. Perhaps they did not have jobs before Nike came, but Nike exploited their poverty and desire to have an income by not paying them a living wage. Nobody believes that they would be paid minimum wage by Western standards, but they should be paid a living wage that does not require them to work hours overtime just to survive. That is not a job; it is slavery.

Nike tried to deny that they were using sweatshop labor in the 1990s, but if they had nothing to hide then they should have allowed the Americans in who wanted to see what it was like inside the factories. Instead, Nike denied them access, sent security to threaten them and then follow them to their homes. This does not sound like a company with nothing to hide. Nike has the social responsibility to ensure that their workers are being treated fairly and not being threatened. Yet, when a worker tried to unionize, she was beaten and illegally jailed for doing something that every worker should have the right to do and that is seek a better work standard than below poverty wages, long hours and terrible conditions (Nike Sweatshops: Behind the Swoosh, 2011). Phil Knight acts as if he is a philanthropic person, but he does not show much kindness or caring to his own workforce. He is the one imposing the Western habit of greed rather than showing the universal trait of love and caring about one’s fellow human beings especially those who work to make their boss wealthy.

2. The case referenced in the YouTube video had to do with the sweatshop conditions in Nike factories in Indonesia in the 1990s. Today, there is more concern over the same issues. Bain (2017) of Quartz explains, “Nike contract factory in Hansae, Vietnam, suffered wage theft and verbal abuse, and labored for hours in temperatures well over the legal limit of 90 degrees . . . . Nike is also accused of cutting jobs at the Hansae factory and pulling production from a factory in Honduras with a strong union presence, resulting in hundreds of workers losing vital jobs (Bain, 2017). Nike also will not let an independent group called the Worker Rights Consortium inspect their factories. This makes not sense unless they have something to hide. This leads one to ask, what are Nike’s ethical standards?

Nike aligns itself with companies that share the same values. If they did not, the companies would not want to work with them. Someone who contracts with Nike either does not know or care how Nike makes so much money by not paying living wages or making sure their factories are not below the standards expected by basic human rights. Nike should be boycotted by both consumers and collaborators until they get their ethical house in order and stop exploiting workers in poor countries who are just trying to make a living. Nike tries to put on a face of corporate social responsibility, but where the rubber meets the tennis shoe, they do not demonstrate social responsibility even if in the Western world they have tried very hard to seem as if they do. For instance, they recently created an ad with Colin Kaepernick citing him as a courageous person, and he is, but it seems as if the Kaepernick ad says that people should see that Nike supports Kaepernick’s efforts at justice for African Americans. However, justice for the people of Indonesia, Honduras or Vietnam is not a concern, and it should be.

3. Since 2011 Nike ran the ad for Kaepernick. Spellings (2018) of The Cut says, “Nike has done bang-up job of reversing that image. Business of Fashion and Morgan Stanley have both hailed the company for its sustainability efforts. Nike has an entire site dedicated to its social impact with stories, stats, and pictures of happy people working in its factories. Now, by aligning itself with Kaepernick, Nike stands for a new kind of activism and has new power” (Spellings, 2018). Spellings (2018) goes on to say that there is a glaring omission in Nike’s new CSR image, and that is workers rights. She specifically says that it is transparency problem in the product chain for Nike. Nike will not say what it pays the factory workers, and no effort to try to raise the wages so that the workers can have at least a slightly better life. When workers protest and try to unionize to protect their rights and put up a united front, Nike has them beaten and jailed.

Nike claims to be an environmentally sustainable company. Its headquarters are located in Oregon, one of the states that is a leader in environmental standards. Nike’s focus on environmental issues makes them seem as if they practice CSR, but only in the areas they choose. Workers’ rights does not appear to be one of the chosen areas for Nike. In an excerpt from its 2017 Code of Conduct it says, “We expect all our suppliers to share our commitment to respecting the rights of workers—with particular care for the unique vulnerabilities and needs of worker groups such as women, migrants and temporary workers—and to advancing the welfare of workers and communities” (Nike, 2017). Nike does not take responsibility for their workers but pushes the responsibility onto their suppliers. They do not say what they do if suppliers do not meet their expectations when it comes to these standards of conduct. Nike should be taking the responsibility by not buying from suppliers who do not treat their workers fair. Of course, Nike does not say anything about their own factories where it is their responsibility to ensure workers’ rights.

4. I do view Nike differently. I vaguely remember someone once telling me that Nike was not an ethical company, but I do not remember why they thought that. My guess is that it was about the workers’ rights issues that Nike seems to have done little to change since the 2011 video. Nike has great slogans like “Just do it,” which means not to make excuses or to be afraid, but just get out there. Nike does not believe its slogans because if they did they would look at the conditions in which their factory workers lived and do something to improve their lives. Apparently, Knight is living in the past with an antiquated view of business ethics and practices because he believes that he is doing something really great for the workers in the poor country where the Nike factories exist. In his provision of jobs for these factory workers, he should have considered a fairer wage. It would not have taken much except for empathy. When one of the plant managers sees one of his or her workers for 12 hours per day every day just so the worker can survive, he or she should know that there is someone at home missing that worker. That knowledge should lead them to pay the factory worker enough so that he or she does not have to put in such long hours and can have a better work-life balance and a more comfortable life in exchange for working hard to make Nike products that provide wealth for Nike’s owners and shareholders. I do not buy Nike products because they are too expensive, and if I someday become fabulously wealthy, I still will not buy Nike products.