Friday, 7 September 2018

Nike and its Sweatshop Problem





Link https://youtu.be/exD6tc-wI0o

Recently trainers giant Nike hired Colin Kaepernick to be its new celebrity sponsor. Kaepernick is a professional American style Football player but his fame is largely boosted by his public protesting against police killings of African Americans.


As a result this has made him a target of right wing American vitriol. As a result they greeted his lucrative and high profile new gig with alarm and outrage. Currently #Nikeboycott is trending on social media platforms, as are pictures of very strange and impotent protests of consumers destroying the Nike products that they have already bought.


So yeah that's probably not going to hurt Nike's profit margins much at all unless they get their act together.

However Nike is a pretty awful company, most well all capitalist business are, its rooted in their structure and motives for existence. Nike is infamous for its use of sweatshops and what became known in the 1990s as Corporate slave labour. Simply typing the words Nike Sweatshops into a search engine brings up hundreds of photographs, banners and placards against the companies practices. The above video is about the global consumer protests and a strike by Indonesian Garment workers. The first interview is with former factory employee Cicih Sukaesih whom famously was invited to the USA to confront Nike's top executives, they declined to meet with her, so instead she toured the country speaking to the American public instead.

The interview with Cicih Sukaesih also goes into detail about the issues with consumer boycotts as a tool of social change.


Transcript

Program Announcer Max Pierson:

But we begin by looking at the harsh realities of global commerce. Going back over thousands of years each leap forward in transport be it sail ships, ancient roads, steam or jet engines has led to a consequent expansion of trade. But over the last century that process has accelerated towards what we now think of as the globalised economy.

Some argue that increased trade increases the world’s prosperity, but while their maybe winners there are also losers. In the early 1990s one of the world’s best-known brands Nike began to attract bad publicity over the working conditions in some of its factories. Fans of the sports retailer started to boycott the company when they found out about the sweatshop conditions in which some trainers were made.

Claire Bose has been speaking to an Indonesian Nike worker who was fired for protesting against poor wages and conditions.

Cicih Sukaesih:

It was very tiring, it was very boring. My job was to glue the sole of the shoe on the trainer, the bosses forced us to do overtime. We were constantly pushed to meet targets.

Claire Bose:

In 1992 Cicih Sukaesih made Nike trainers in Indonesia. She earned less than the minimum wage, less than a dollar a day. Cicih would be at the factory from 7:00am to 9:00pm six days a week, she was only allowed to leave the conveyor belt for lunch.

Cicih Sukaesih:

We didn’t have time to have a break even if we wanted to take a pee it wasn’t allowed. Some of us would pee under the machine.

Claire Bose:

She says that the bosses at the Korean owned subcontractor where she worked were abusive to.

Cicih Sukaesih:

Our supervisor would say “Hi monkey” and use that insulting language. Some women were also sexually abused, the bosses would touch and grab them inappropriately. It was very upsetting and disturbing to see.

Claire Bose:

At the time Nike made some of the worlds most popular shoes, with sales worth nine billion dollars a year. Its logo commanded people to “Just do it”. Cicih had no idea that the shoes she made could be sell for more than a hundred dollars a pair. When she found out she was horrified.

Cicih Sukaesih:

I had enough, I was annoyed, I decided to see if any of my friends had the same idea. We agreed to organise a strike.

Claire Bose:

But organising thousands of workers wasn’t easy.

Cicih Sukaesih:

We had to plan in secret, we first spoke about it during a work outing. It was for a religious festival so it gave us an excuse to talk to each other freely. Back in 1992 there was no other way to communicate secretly. We had no mobile phones, so I am very proud that we managed to convince all 6,500 workers to strike, 90% of these were women. We all agreed to go on strike.

Claire Bose:

And in September 1992, the workers went on strike for three days, incredibly the factory owners agreed to the demand for a rise in salary. But it was small, only new workers were granted the minimum wage the equivalent of a dollar and twenty-five cents a day. Everything went back to normal but then one month after the strike Cicih was arrested.

Cicih Sukaesih:

I was interrogated and accused of involvement in an illegal organisation. On the second day I was afraid of being tortured, I was made to sit in a chair covered in blood and forced to admit to being the mastermind of the strike action. I was terrified.

Claire Bose:

She was released, but two months after this interrogation Cicih was fired. She was black listed by her employment agency, and hasn’t worked since.

But protests like hers were beginning to attract the attention of charities such as Christian Aid.

Christian Aid Spokesperson:

One of the things which Christian Aid is highlighting is the double standards that go on in the shoe trainer industry.

Claire Bose:

They pointed to the millions of dollars paid by companies like Nike to sports stars such as Basketballs Michael Jordan for promoting their products.

Christian Aid Spokesperson:

Particularly when you’ve got mega celebrities in the sports industries being paid as much as 70 million pounds to endorse some of these shoes for which say a woman working in a factory in China would probably be paid only be paid around twenty-five pence an hour.

Claire Bose:

Nike rebuffed the claims made by Christian Aid and others, saying they were fair to their overseas employees.

Nike Spokesperson:

Our code of conduct says first of all that every factory worker has to earn at least the minimum wage, at least. Second all factory workers have free housing, they have free transportation and they work in well-conditioned, well ventilated working areas, so we don’t have anything to do with the things mentioned in the Christian Aid report.

Claire Bose:

Both workers and manufacturers were just starting to grapple with the impact of globalisation and of relative pay scales. Later the founder of Nike Phil Knight spoke to the BBC about it.

Phil Knight:

Essentially there are markets and all these things that really kind of dictate what gets paid and what doesn’t get paid. [muttering] If I’d like to average say Michael Jordan’s salary with a shoemaker in Indonesia this is Michael Jordan wouldn’t like that to good, and we wouldn’t have Michael Jordan as an endorsement. And the same take on a shoemaker in Indonesia is paid 50% more at entry level than what he gets at minimum wage you know in other industries in Indonesia. So, what we try to be is good citizens within the country that we’re working in.

 Claire Bose:

But Cicih Sukaesih didn’t recognise that image of Nike as the good citizen. So, when in 1996 an American NGO Press for Change invited her to visit America and tell Phil Knight in person, she agreed immediately.

Cicih Sukaesih:

I was very proud to be able to go to America, I wanted to speak to the owner of Nike, Phil Knight to tell him about the low wages for Nike workers in Indonesia. Maybe he didn’t know the condition of his workers in Indonesia.

Claire Bose:

Despite traveling to Nikes headquarters in Oregon, she didn’t get her audience with Phil Knight. But during her stay in America Cicih managed to tell her story to thousands of teenagers and students, many of whom then vowed to boycott the company. But that was something she herself struggled with.

Cicih Sukaesih:

In fact it was confusing, I didn’t want to promote a boycott because that would mean people would stop buying the shoes and the company would close in Indonesia. I worried that it would lead to many unemployed workers in Indonesia, I thought the important thing was to keep the company, but make sure that they applied the code of conduct which meant paying a decent wage.

Claire Bose:

Two years later in 1998 Nike’s CEO Phil Knight admitted that his company had become synonymous with slave wages and forced overtime. He announced a program to address the complaints made against them by allowing monitoring of their factories by NGO’s. Millions of Nike trainers are still made in Indonesia, Cicih has never had a job since working for Nike, she lives with her sisters family. She remembers fondly her trip to America, and in particular the first time she tried on a pair of Nike trainers.

Cicih Sukaesih:

I felt proud indeed, because after so many years making shoes finally I could try them on. Proud at the time and sad too, sadly I made the shoes for four years and never tried it. I could not afford to buy it, proud and sad.

Max Pierson:

Cicih Sukaesih was speaking to Claire Bose, and you can see Cicih campaigning in America in 1996 on our website, just search for BBC Witness. It remains a fact that a very high percentage of the shoes and clothes sold in the glitzy high street shops of the richest countries in the world have been stitched together in the factories of some of the poorest.

I’m joined now by Lucy Siegle a journalist and author of To Die for an investigation of the fashion industry. Lucy has anything really changed from those days in the 1990s when there seemed to be a growing awareness of the sweatshop question?

Lucy Siegle:

I think a lot has changed superficially, I am not convinced that there has been substantive changes in the supply chain that rule out the abuses that we heard about then and we hear about still. And in many ways I think the problems in the supply chain have spread throughout different producer countries, what we might call fashion hotspots, garment hot spots. When Cicih was leading that campaign, we had a slightly different looking fashion industry.

That has transformed and is even faster, even cheaper and even greedier for market share than it was back in the 90s if you believe that.

Max Pierson:

But did campaigns like that and the threat of a boycott, no matter how effective it was, did the threat of a boycott have any impact on the big brands?

Lucy Siegle:

I think it obviously caused Nike to change direction. So, what we saw was kind of out right denial, hostility and shutting down of campaigners and trying to seize control of the narrative. And as that report makes clear, after a couple of years of that Phil Knight who was CEO at the time came out and said “we do have a charge to answer here, and this how we’re fundamentally changing”. Now that was a massive shift and gave a lot of hope to campaigners and concerned citizens.

Because you know the issue is that things are very, very complex. The, the move to substantive change has not really happened, the business model has actually grown more fierce and more competitive and I think we still have a huge amount of problems in the fashion supply chain. I actually wrote in my book-my book came out two years before the Rana Plaza catastrophe in Bangladesh. That was in 20th April 2013 when 1133 people were killed in a single incident making garments for different brands, for the Western high street stores they’re the brands that we all know very, very well.

And that you would think would mark a seismic shift, it hasn’t actually. And that really is evidence that it’s the business model that is really at fault here.

Max Pierson:

But isn’t there at least more transparency? It’s not as if the world does not know about the potential for sweatshop conditions in some of the developing world. And the responsibility has to some extent be on both the consumers and the big brands to be clear what they’re buying and where that stuff is being made.

Lucy Siegle:
It is not possible for them to be 100% clear and accurate about where stuff is being made when the supply chain is incredibly chaotic. Also, I think Nike was actually one of the first brands to publish their list of supplier factories and you see a lot of brands doing that now. But actually, what tends to happen is that they published a list of first tier factories that they know about where their first order was placed and what we’re still not taking account of are their two, three and four tier factories into which orders are subcontracted.

Where there isn’t really anybody watching what’s going on and this is where a lot of these abuses, which ranges as your report made clear from sexual abuse of women, intimidation, right through physical abuse and then right through to terrible disasters as we saw at Rana Plaza. So, transparency of first tier factories tells us something, but it doesn’t tell us enough. And it isn’t fair to expect the consumer to try and unravel all of this before they buy an item of clothing.

We know that boycotts damaged the people that they’re set out to help, we don’t want them to boycott, but what else do we want them to do? It’s a really really sticky question.

Max Pierson:

And what about what we might call the Nike argument in the 1990s, that umm they were paying more than the legal minimum wage in Indonesia at the time, even though that wage might be pitiful by the standards of those who were buying the products?

Lucy Siegle:

Yes, it’s still an argument that’s being used today by hundreds of other brands all over the world so that’s one, that’s one aspect that has travelled all through the decades. The living wage debate over fashion has really been disgracefully slow. What we can say is that the fashion industry is not paying people a living wage and is not providing decent livelihoods within its supply chain after all of these years.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog

 
#blog-pager { display: block !important; float: none!important; } .blog-pager-older-link, .home-link, .blog-pager-newer-link { background-color: #FFFFFF!important; }