Nike products are undoubtedly cool. Fit and flabby alike proudly flaunt “swoosh”-marked apparel, everything from shoes to sweatshirts. Nike customers often don’t realize that by purchasing from Nike, they are supporting the oppression of factory workers overseas.
For nearly half a century, Nike has been plagued with accusations of sweatshop use in Asia. Unfortunately, according to Educating for Justice, these accusations were, and still are, well-founded. In Indonesia, where many Nike products are manufactured, Nike pays workers minimum wage, the equivalent of $1.25 a day. These wages fail to provide the basic necessities of life for Indonesian workers. With $1.25 a day, workers can rent an 8-by-8-foot one-room apartment, obtain drinking water, secure transportation to work and buy two meals of chicken, rice and vegetables. However, if workers need to buy cleaning products, clothing, health care or personal hygiene products such as soap and toothpaste, they must go hungry to cover the cost. Indonesian workers cannot break this cycle of poverty for themselves or their children because it is virtually impossible for them to get an education or save money.
In addition to the difficult, yet technically legal hardship of earning minimum wage, workers have suffered human rights violations at Nike factories. In 2011, Steven Wright of The Associated Press reported physical and mental abuse at Nike factories. This abuse included kicking, slapping, throwing shoes at workers and making workers stand in the hot sun for making mistakes on the job. One year later, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Nike factory was made to pay $1 million in settlements for forced, unpaid overtime. Jim Keady, director of Educating for Justice, documented intimidation of workers who tried to secure rights by affiliating with unions. Keady also discovered metropolitan dump sites where Nike’s shoe rubber scrap is ditched and then burned, releasing carcinogenic fumes into the air.
Nike’s willingness to let their workers be treated poorly is unacceptable, especially considering the company’s financial success. In 2012, Nike made a profit of $2.2 billion. Periodically, Nike makes lavish deals with athletes. Lebron James got a Nike endorsement deal worth $90 million, and Tiger Woods got a deal worth $100 million. While James and Woods deserve to be recognized for their talent, their lavish payments are sorely needed by the Nike factory workers.
Nike’s workers overseas can do little to improve their situation, but as customers, we can. We can educate ourselves and others about where our possessions come from. We can demand that Nike and other sweatshop-supplied companies treat workers justly, while seeking out fair trade companies in their stead. We can end sweatshop conditions through action, or we can support sweatshops by ignoring them.