NIKE CAN'T SHAKE LABOR DAZE: ERNST & YOUNG STUDY RELEASED
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).