FACTs and FAQs about Nike’s labor abuses

FACT #1. Nike violates local minimum wage laws, pays subsistence wages and illegally forces massive overtime:

Vietnam: People are illegally forced to work 65 hrs/wk, for 15˘/hr [E&Y], or 20˘/hr while 3 simple meals would cost $2.10 [VLW, CBS].

Vietnam: Nike publicly denies violating the legal minimum wage of $45/month, but their own secret studies prove otherwise [E&Y], as do pay stubs [VLW]. Nike’s Dartmouth study naively trusts factory managers instead of examining pay stubs [D, Fact #8].

China: People are illegally forced to pay their first month’s salary as a "deposit", which they lose if they leave within a year [WP].

Haiti: People are paid 30˘/hr, not enough to educate children or eat [GRP], but Nike is moving to China where pay is even less [NPR].

FAQ #1. Why do people keep taking the jobs?

Nearly 75% of Indonesia Nike workers quit per year [LAW], having been deceived about the boot-camp conditions, violations of minimum-wage and overtime laws, higher costs of living near the factories, etc. [VLW, WP]. Wars (e.g., Vietnam), dictatorships (e.g., Indonesia), and coerced foreign corporate land-grabs (across the Third World) make some destitute enough to prostitute their children, become literal slaves, and endure sweatshops.

FACT #2. Nike subjects workers (90% young women and girls) to criminally dangerous, brutal sweatshops:

Vietnam/China: Chemicals causing liver, kidney and brain damage are at 177 times the legal limit, and 77% of workers suffer respiratory problems [E&Y]—most exposed workers are given neither protective gear [E&Y] nor the truth [WP].

Indonesia/Vietnam: people commonly faint from exhaustion, heat, fumes, and poor nutrition [VLW], some die w/o medical attention after collapsing on the job [SMH], a typical 20-hr./day factory with 6000 workers has only one doctor, for 2 hrs./day [VLW], and people are fired immediately if they take sick leave [SMH].

Indonesia: 56 women are forced to run in the hot sun for wearing "nonregulation shoes", until 12 are hospitalized [NYT3]. Nike-paid Andrew Young [#8 below] dreamily reasons "That’s the way they do things there; you run around to get your motor started" [JH].

Vietnam: 15 women are beat on head and neck (with a Nike shoe) by a supervisor, for "poor sewing"—2 are hospitalized. 970 workers go on strike in protest. Nike CEO Philip Knight lies to shareholders that only 1 worker was hit, on the arm [CBS].

Vietnam: After newspaper descriptions of violent sexual molestation, Nike CEO Knight lies to shareholders that the supervisor was trying to wake up the women and "perhaps … touched a part that he should not have". Nike allows him to flee prosecution. [VLW]

FAQ #2. Do other shoe companies act the same way?

The clothing industry as a whole does mistreat its workers, nearly worldwide. All this dirty laundry needs a public airing, but we must start somewhere, and at UM that means Nike [see reverse]. Some Nike factories also produce shoes for rival companies, under similar conditions, but Asian factories wholly devoted to other companies (even Reebok) have much better pay and working conditions [VLW]. Nike can afford good practices w/o higher prices.

FACT #3. Nike supports military dictatorships that crush labor unions and worker protest:

Bangladesh: police attack peaceful protests on behalf of jailed coworkers—9 jailed, 250 injured, 97 fired, 800 criminally charged [ID].

Indonesia: In April ’97, 10,000 of the 13,000 workers at a Nike factory strike demanding that the factory owners not cheat them out of a paltry 20˘/day raise in the minimum wage [CLR9].

Indonesia: a worker is locked in a factory room for a week under military interrogation about labor organizing [NYT3].

Indonesia: A new Manpower Bill prohibits independent unions and strikes on public areas while allowing ejection from company areas, and requires advance submission of names of strike leaders to a military dictator who has murdered millions of civilians [CLR9].

Indonesia: 30% of Nike’s total business costs goes to payoffs for Indonesian generals, government officials, and cronies [ECON].

1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner José Ramos-Horta: "Nike should be treated as enemies, in the same manner we view armies and governments that perpetrate human rights violations. What is the difference between the behavior of Nike in Indonesia and elsewhere, and the Japanese imperial army during WWII?" [AR]

FAQ #3. Do Nike jobs raise living standards in the long run?

Foreign investment sometimes does this, but only when coupled with support for labor organizing and democratization, with decent pay and conditions, and with commitment to the local economy when things get better. Nike runs in reverse. In Indonesia, "Nike has created 115,000 jobs that pay near-subsistence wages, but even [military] government officials grouse that such operations generate little self-sustaining economic development" [LAW].

Nike's advertising contract with the University of Michigan ...
Nike's propaganda lies ...
List of references ...
Nike/UM index ...

To get involved, email nikerights@umich.edu