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Nike Sweatshop Action

Nike Sweatshop History: Should Action be Taken?

Few emblems are recognized on a global scale to the extent of the tiny check mark that constitutes the Nike Swoosh.  The multi-billion dollar company in its thirty-two years of business (“NikeTimeline”) not only occupies “the premier position in the American footwear industry” (Moskowitz, Levering, and Katz, 95), but has grown to be a global leader and trendsetter in the footwear and sports apparel industries.  Nike prides itself on its connection to such positive images as a healthy lifestyle, optimal performance, competition, a love of the game and sports icons such as Michael Jordan and the Brazilian World Cup champion soccer team.  Nike’s positive image has further been enhanced through their generous endowments to various universities and their charitable donations of sports equipment to programs to increase the activity of today’s sedentary youths (“NikeTimeline”).  Yet despite this positive PR, Nike’s Swoosh has made unsavory connections in the latter half of the 90s. Nike’s sweatshop manufacturing practices have been an area of increasing public awareness and a glaring black spot on Nike’s “good guy” image.  The following essay will further shed light on some of Nike’s sweatshop history.   2003 was a record setting year for Nike. The company earned “$10.7 billion in revenues” (Parker).  From the humble dream of men at the University of Oregon, Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight (Moskowitz, Levering, and Katz, 96) Nike has grown into a thriving multinational corporation. They envisioned importing lightweight running shoes from Japan and in the mid sixties realized this dream with the company Blue Ribbon Sports (“NikeTimeline”). Bowerman and Knight became more involved in the design, including developing rubberized soles in waffle irons, and in 1972 launched a new company under the name of Nike, complete with the legendary Swoosh logo (“NikeTimeline”). Nike’s renown grew quickly on the global scale throughout the 80s with the help of endorsements from athletes such as Steve Prefontaine and Michael Jordan, a catchy slogan like the “Just Do it” campaign and success at the Olympic level. In the 1984 games, 65 Olympic medals were won by the 58 athletes sporting Nike athletic shoes (Moskowitz, Levering, and Katz, 95).  A visual testament to the success of Knight’s and Bowerman’s dream is evident in the abundance of the Swoosh in every gym, arena and field.

Today Nike practices “out-sourcing,” meaning other companies operate and own the factories and plants in which Nike goods are produced (“Our Business Model”).  Nike merchandize is manufactured in 50 countries in over 900 factories employing over 660 000 workers, most of which are women ("Our Business Model”).

The Nike Code of Conduct states, “We are driven to do not only what is required, but what is expected of a leader. We expect our business partners to do the same” (“Just Stop It”). The reality of working conditions inside the factories that produce Nike goods is unfortunately much different from what those glorified words would lead the public to believe.

Nike has been accused of producing many of its goods in third world sweatshops. Although Nike has factories located around the globe, most of its manufacturing is located in China, Indonesia, and Vietnam (“Frequently”). Nike chooses to locate the majority of their production in such countries because of the abundance of cheap labor. In these countries, Nike has more complaints filed against them from workers and labor organizations than any other American corporation (“Frequently”).  Some of the human rights charges include the following: the use of child labor in factories, physical, verbal and sexual abuse from superiors, unsafe working conditions including exposure to toxic chemicals and the use of machinery without the proper safety precautions, pay below minimum wage and forced overtime hours.

While Nike’s Code of Conduct states that Nike “opposes child labor” and that Nike has “set age standards at 16 for apparel and 18 for footwear factories,” (“Code of Conduct”) many cases of children working have been reported.

Physical abuses in Nike factories reported by CBS News include workers being struck on the head, pinched or being forced to stand, kneel or run in the hot sun as punishment (“Fact Sheet”). There have also been numerous cases of workers being sexually molested by supervisors within Nike factories.

In factories in Vietnam, workers were exposed to Toluene, a reproductive toxin, at 177 times the legal limit (“Nike’s Labour Practices”). They were also exposed to other chemicals and glue without proper safety equipment.

 Nike has been accused of not paying a “living-wage.” A living wage is considered a pay that is able to supply basic necessities for a small family (Connor).  In Vietnam, workers receive about  $37US a month, which is below the minimum wage of $45US a month (“Fact Sheet”). In Indonesia, Nike has increased wages for workers to above the minimum wage set by the government.  While this is seen as a step in the correct direction, worker’s pay is still roughly one half of what would be considered a “living wage” for this country (“Frequently”).

In China, it is common for workers to engage in a 10 to 12 hour work day before working another two to four hours of overtime (“Nike’s Labour Practices”). In Vietnamese factories, workers making Nike merchandize have been found to be forced to work over 600 hours of overtime a year, which is more than 400 hours a year above the legal limit in Vietnam (“Fact Sheet”). Workers have reported being coerced into the overtime hours through threats of unemployment or forced indirectly by the low pay to volunteer for the hours in order to support their families.    

Numerous organizations have taken it upon themselves to bring such human rights violations to light and to pressure Nike into changing their labor practices.  Among these are the Global Exchange, Oxfram Community Aid Abroad, the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) and numerous student groups.  These groups stage protests in front of Niketown stores, distribute flyers, organize sit-ins and boycott Nike products produced in sweatshops in order to raise public awareness. Several universities have also become involved in the fight for workers’ rights by joining the WRC. In joining the WRC the universities ensure that merchandize bearing the university’s name or logo, a lucrative market, is not produced in sweatshops (Street). While the human rights organizations would like Nike to make a number of changes to their manufacturing practices, their main goals are as follows: ensure living wages for workers, increase the safety inside of the factories, reduce the number of hours workers need to work and to allow outside organizations to monitor the factories.

Workers have also taken part in the fight for their rights, staging strikes, most notably in Indonesia when 10, 000 Nike workers walked off the job in April 1997 (“Frequently”).

Nike is not the only corporation charged with such human rights violations in the manufacturing stage of their business practices, yet Nike remains the main focus of a number of human rights organizations for a number of reasons. As stated above, the sheer number of worker complaints has mobilized groups against the footwear giant (“Frequently”). Secondly, as Nike itself states, it is an industry leader (“Frequently”). Not only do they set trends in the market but also in labor practices.  By targeting Nike, organizations can influence the labor practices of many smaller companies through positive peer pressure. Thirdly, the success of Nike makes the cost of changing their practices and increasing worker wages seem like pocket change to the multi-billion dollar company.  Nike can afford to elevate wages and implement new safety measures without increasing the price of their products (“Frequently”).

Nike has made some positive changes since the scandal of their sweatshop practices became public in the late 90s. In Indonesia, Nike has increased workers’ pay to above minimum wage. Nike has also begun to make changes in the safety of many Vietnamese factories, reducing the number of toxic chemicals used, changing to safer solvents (“Frequently”) and improving ventilation systems in main plants. Though these actions have been commended by human rights organizations as  positive steps in the right direction, critics of Nike still feel that the company has a long way to go before its labor practices allow it to be truly worthy of the positive image it tries so hard to promote. 

Annotated Bibliography of Works Consulted

"Code of Conduct." Nikebiz: Responsibility. Jan. 2004. http// (1 Feb. 2004).

This article was taken from an assemblage of articles concerning Nike sweatshops.  More specifically, this article provides an informal outline of Nike’s Code of Conduct, which is an overview of Nike’s compliance to better working conditions.  The article makes a strong statement in favor or Nike, saying that Nike is in “compliance with standards” that are conducted in an “ethical and lawful manner.”

Conner, Tim. "Still Waiting for Nike to Do It." Global Exchange. May 2001. (25 Jan. 2004).

Tim Conner’s article, “Still Waiting for Nike to Do It,” is a credible work that describes the reformation that Nike has made, over the last few years, towards improved labor practices.  The article is a well-constructed timeline of the challenges and revisions that Nike faced and implemented in 1998.  Accordingly, the article discusses many of the accusations brought against Nike labor practices and all of the corrections that Nike formulated to effectively produce a healthier working environment.

"Frequently Asked Questions." Global Exchange. 13 Aug. 2003. (1 Feb. 2004).

This site contains an uneducated and informal list of frequently asked questions and answers about Nike sweatshops that are of relevance to the public.  The article addresses both questions concerning Nike’s labor practices as well as issues that question the validity of whether such strong accusations against Nike are reasonable.  In short, the article provides a general idea of Nike’s history, labor conditions, and significant improvements.

“Just Stop It.” Oxfam Community Aid Abroad. 1997. (1 Feb. 2004).

This article provides a comprehensive summary of information that explains the alterations made in Nike’s Code of Conduct.  The article gives a clear and visual bulleted list of Nike’s original Code of Conduct, up until February 1997, and Nike’s current Code of Conduct, as of March 1997.

Moskowitz, Milton, Robert Levering and Michael Katz. Everybody's Business. New York: Doubleday, 1990.

This book is an educated and informational book that is full of essential facts relative to Corporate Giants.  The book contains factual information that concerns such things as global presence, industry and product rankings, numbers of employees, profits and losses, etc.  The book also address the true character of each Corporation and its influence on modern life.  Therefore, this source provides a wide variety of information that is useful in determining the efficiency and effectiveness of major Corporations.

"NikeTimeline." Nikebiz: Responsibility. Jan. 2004. (1 Feb. 2004)

This site is a formal and knowledgeable timeline that outlines the ups and downs that the Nike Corporation has faced throughout its existence.  The timeline is a chronological line of dates, dating from when Nike was first created to the present day.

“Nike – VN Fact Sheet.” Boycott Nike. 30 Jan. 1999.        (1 Feb. 2004).

This article is made up of a bulleted list of facts that argue and exemplify how Nike sweatshops have violated several Vietnamese laws and also its own code of conduct.  This article is reliable due to the research of both Vietnamese and American lawyers regarding Nike’s Code of Conduct.  Although the list of facts does not go in to details it is still very informative.

“Nike’s Labour Practices.” Red de Solidaridad de la Maquila Solidarity Network. 1998. (25 Jan. 2004).

This article is an essay on Nike’s foreign affairs.  The article is written with a biased look at the horrendous working conditions in sweatshops located in Indonesia and Vietnam.  Within the essay, the poor labor conditions and working environments found in these alienated sweatshops is exposed.

"Our Business Model & Its Challenges." Nikebiz: Responsibility. Jan. 2004. (1 Feb. 2004)

This article was taken from an assemblage of articles concerning Nike sweatshops.  More specifically, this article provides a knowledgeable background of the initial construction of the Nike Corporation.  Accordingly, the article informs the reader of the whereabouts of Nike headquarters and the location of its many factories.

Parker, Mark G. and Charles D. Denson. “Chaitman’s Letter.” Nikbiz: Responsibility. /nikebiz/nikebiz.jhtml?page=15 (1 Feb. 2004).

This article is a direct replica of a letter sent to all Nike shareholders signed by Presidents Mark Parker and Charles Denson’s of Nike Brand.  The letter is a testimonial of how Nike conveys a passion for success.  Within the letter no where does it refer to the allegations against Nike’s working conditions in its sweatshops.  Rather, the letter emphasizes all of the positive aspects surrounding the company and what Nike stands for.

Street, Paul. “The Anti-Sweatshop Movement.” Z Communications. (1 Feb. 2004).

This article is an educated outlook on all anti-sweatshop movements.  The article discusses not only the positive aspects of anti-sweatshop movements but also the negative aspects of the movements.  Purposely, the article uses a lot of factual detail and credible examples of how sweatshops can be both beneficial and detrimental.

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