Answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

Question: Are consumers willing to pay more if Nike raises the wages of its workers?

Nike makes record profits by gouging both the worker and the consumer. Nike could pay its workers a living wage without raising prices by even one penny.

Question: What is the labor cost of Nike shoes?

In 1995, an Indonesian pair of Nike shoes selling for $70 had a labor cost of $2.75.

Question: What about Nike's claim that it pays more than the minimum wage in Indonesia?

Indonesia sets the minimum wage below the poverty line, to attract investment. Only through extensive overtime do Nike workers make more than the minimum wage. Nike refuses to allow independent monitors to verify hours and pay levels.

Question: The Indonesian minimum wage ($2.50 a day) doesn't sound like much to us but isn't it a living wage in that economy?

The workers who receive those wages have repeatedly gone on strike because they cannot meet their most basic needs with the money they make working for Nike. Weight loss due to malnutrition is common among Nike workers.

Question: If Nike workers don't like their jobs, why don't they find employment somewhere else?

The global economy is rapidly turning the world into the global sweatshop, where workers have fewer and fewer options except to work in sweatshops such as those run by Nike contractors.

Question: What about reports from some people who have toured Nike factories and who describe them as clean and well lit and who saw no evidence of workers being mistreated?

You don't produce clean, white sneakers in a grungy basement. Nike treats its shoes much better than its workers. Nike sent two of its handsomely remunerated board members, Jill Ker Conway and John Thompson, on guided tours of some of Nike's overseas plants. When Andrew Young recently toured Nike factories in Vietnam, his interpreter was a member of Nike management. By way of contrast, when Thuyen Nguyen paid his own way to go to Vietnam, he took the trouble to interview Nike's workers outside the factory gates. There, where they did not have to fear being fired for telling the truth, the workers told Nguyen, "They treat us like animals." They reported malnutrition from trying to live on their meager wages, sickness from prolonged exposure to solvent fumes, sexual harassment from supervisors, physical abuse and exceedingly limited access to bathrooms and drinking water.

Question: Does Nike use child labor?

Nike started production in Pakistan (one of the most notorious countries for child labor) without taking any measures to monitor hiring practices by Nike contractors. Only when Life Magazine documented the use of child labor in the production of soccer balls did Nike promise to correct the situation. Now that public pressure has forced Nike to clean up this aspect of its labor practices, the company presents itself as a responsible leader. The credit goes to the Nike campaign -- not to Nike. If Nike would allow independent monitoring, it could ensure that child labor was not being used anywhere that the company produces.

Nike's labor policies are bad for children. Exposing women of child-bearing age to dangerous fumes harms children. Forcing mothers to put outrageous hours of overtime harms children.. Consider this passage about Nike's Indonesian workers from "Trampled Dreams," written by Bob Herbert of the New York Times:

"Apong Herlina, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Institute, tells the heartbreaking story of women from the countryside who have come to the cities to work but do not earn enough to have their children with them. The children remain in the country, being cared for by relatives. 'These women work a tremendous amount,' Ms. Herlina said, 'but there is not enough money for transportation or time to travel the long distances to visit their children. They see them once a year, during holidays. they rest of the year, they grieve.' "


Question: Is Nike worse than most of the other shoe companies?

The labor practices of the major shoe companies tend to be virtually identical. Often, several of the major brands are manufactured in the same factory. Nike is, far and away, the market leader. It also was the leader in moving its production jobs overseas and in exploiting the most vulnerable workers. There is every reason to believe that, when Nike agrees to the demands of this campaign, the other shoe companies will be swift to follow.

Question: Which shoes can I buy in good conscience?

If a shoe has a label saying that is was made in South Korea or Taiwan, you can be confident that the workers who made it are receiving a living wage (because those workers struggled for decent wages through their union -- an option denied to workers in some of the countries where Nike produces). It's up to you whether you still wish to avoid Nike shoes, even those make in South Korea and Taiwan, in order to send a message to the company about their operations in other countries. New Balance and Saucony both sell athletic shoes made in the United States.

Question: Doesn't Nike donate a lot of money to charity?

Nike's "charity" is little more than another aspect of the company's slick marketing techniques. The company doesn't lose a dime on those "donations." Nike advertising makes a lot of low-income children feel that their self worth depends on buying overpriced Nike shoes. Nike ends up taking much more from our communities than it gives to them. And Nike's overseas production workers are the ones who really are making those charity donations to programs is our country -- against their will.

Question: Does free trade promote human rights?

Nike rewards repression through investment and punishes freedom through disinvestment. The low-wage havens sought out by Nike are also, not coincidentally, havens of repression. When South Korea and Taiwan began to democratize, Nike looked to Indonesia, China, and Vietnam for its new investment. Nike doesn't overtly support repression but most certainly profits from it. In Indonesia, bribes paid by Nike contractors to government officials help to sustain the Suharto dictatorship in power.

Question: Are you asking Nike to leave Indonesia?

No, we're asking Nike to stop its cut-and-run policy of prowling the world in search of new low points in wages and repression to which it can shift production.

Question: Does sweatshop investment promote development?

Most of the countries where sweatshops are located have increasing -- not decreasing -- poverty. Nike cites South Korea and Taiwan as countries where Nike investment led the way out of poverty. However, entirely different forces were behind the increasing wealth of those countries, forces not apparent in the other countries where Nike produces.

Question: Isn't Nike part of the White House task force which has drawn up standards for a "no sweat" label?

Human rights activists have gathered signatures on a petition asking that the present version of the task forces agreement be strengthened, especially with regard to independent monitoring and wages. Nike has resisted those changes.

Question: Have you tried to reach Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or any of the other athletes who endorse Nike products?

Numerous attempts have been made -- unsuccessfully -- to get Nike's celebrity endorsers to step up to this issue. However, this campaign is not about stars. The strength of this campaign is in the millions of concerned consumers who think that Nike should do better by its workers.

The Just Don't Do It Campaign at the University of Michigan
The U. of Michigan's contract with Nike
Where it all began
Nike's track record
Nike drops the ball--the Andrew Young report
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Organizations, Resources, and References
Appendix 1. Breakdown of costs for a pair of Nike shoes
Appendix 2. Leak of the Ernst & Young report from Nike headquarters (NYT 11/8/97)

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