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NIKE CAN'T SHAKE LABOR DAZE: ERNST & YOUNG STUDY RELEASED
Published November 10, 1997
Working conditions at Nike-contracted factories in Vietnam and Asia were in the news again over the weekend as findings from an audit conducted for Nike by Ernst & Young was obtained by the media. The report found "many unsafe conditions" at a Nike factory near Ho Chi Minh City where workers "were exposed to carcinogens that exceeded local legal standards by 177 times in parts of the plant" and showed that 77% "of the employees suffered from respiratory problems." The Ernst & Young report was highlighted in a front-page feature by Steven Greenhouse in Saturday's N.Y. TIMES. The findings also showed that employees were "forced to work 65 hours a week, far more than Vietnamese law allows, for $10 a week." Greenhouse: "The inspection report offers an unusually detailed look into conditions at one of Nike's plants at a time when the world's largest athletic shoe company is facing criticism from human rights and labor groups that it treats workers poorly" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/8). As the study was released to the media, Nike issued the complete report findings in a news conference on Friday afternoon. The audit was conducted in November '96 and submitted to Nike in January '97. Vada Manager, Nike Senior Manager for PR, said the company has taken steps to improve factory working conditions upon receiving the report, including reducing overtime hours and restricting the work week; upgrading the ventilation systems; and ensuring proper safety equipment for workers. Manager: "Clearly, this report is not a whitewash. By the recommendations cited in this audit and steps Nike has taken to improve the working conditions, it is clear that our system works" (Nike). REAX: The FINANCIAL TIMES' William Lewis called the report "embarrassing" for Nike (FINANCIAL TIMES, 11/10). ...In N.Y., Phil Mushnick asks, "Where do all the Nike- bought social activists go when these reports are revealed? ... And how many TV networks take a dive on these stories because Nike spends millions advertising $150 slave-wage- made, status symbol sneakers to kids?" (N.Y. POST, 11/10). ...In Washington, DC, "more than" 50 lawmakers called on Nike "to improve labor standards in Third World factories and to employ more people" in the U.S. A letter to Nike Chair Phil Knight said, "As members of the U.S. Congress we are deeply disappointed and embarrassed that a company like Nike, headquartered in the United States, could be so directly involved in the ruthless exploitation of hundreds of thousands of desperate Third World workers." The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Bernard Sanders (D-VT) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) (BLOOMBERG/NEWSDAY, 11/10)....At UNC- Chapel Hill, "roughly" 200 students rallied Friday afternoon and "vowed to pressure Nike to improve its labor practices." UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Michael Hooker defended the university's athletic marketing partnership with Nike but did promise a campus committee would review future corporate relationships at the university (NEWS & OBSERVER, 11/8).