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Column: Nike deserves reprimand for inhumane working conditions

Our athletes shouldn’t be wearing uniforms made in sweatshop conditions.

Grace Hase

Feb. 8, 2013

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

“Just Do It.” Three simple words, yet together they represent one of the most popular sports apparel companies in the world: Nike. However, over the years their great success has come with an even greater cost to those who suffer under their inhumane sweatshop practices.

All over the globe, from first to third world, Nike employs more than 1 million workers in approximately 841 different factories. But what is truly interesting about these 1 million plus employees is how they are distributed throughout different countries. The U.S. is currently home to 66 of these factories, and employs 8,151 men and women. Comparatively, Indonesia, a smaller and poorer country, has only 40 factories, yet employs 171,276 workers — the majority of which are young women and children. How is it that, in a much smaller developing country, the ratio of factories to workers is so drastically higher than in the U.S.?

Indonesia and other countries such as Vietnam and China present Nike with the attractive manufacturing quality of inexpensive sweatshop labor. On a day-to-day basis, their employees work long hours under terrible conditions for a small sum of money. Jim Keady, founder of the nonprofit organization Team Sweat that works to end Nike’s use of sweatshop labor, demonstrated the severe ramifications of these low wages. Keady traveled to Indonesia where he lived for a month with the families of those employed by these factories. There, he survived off the same wage these men and women were paid. Consequently, Keady lost approximately 24 pounds during one month from not being able to afford proper nutrition.

Besides the unfair wages, Nike constantly abuses their workers in unimaginable ways. Stories have surfaced of workers who were beaten with Nike shoes, and some were even mutilated by machetes and left to die in the gutter. While direct violence is common in most sweatshops, Nike sweatshop supervisors have pushed this abuse to the next level. One of these dangerous punishment techniques is what the supervisors call “sun drenching.” In this practice, the supervisors will find an employee who is working too slow on the production line, pull them out of line and have them stand under the hot sun for hours. In countries like Indonesia, which are located close to the equator, it's common for temperatures to reach over 100 degrees on a daily basis, which can cause health effects such as heat stroke.

Since the creation of the United Nations, the U.S. has played an important role as a permanent member on the Security Council. The Security Council, comprised of 15 countries, makes executive U.N. decisions based on keeping peace and maintaining the security and well-being of the world. So if the U.S. holds such a powerful position in enacting global policy, then why do we continue to let one of the companies based in our nation exploit the men and women of other nations? After all, the way Nike treats its workers is violating numerous articles in the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares all persons to be treated equally and held to the same level of human dignity.

Groups such as Team Sweat have advocated their own change in persuading Nike to rethink some of their practices, yet our own government has failed to do the same in recent years. However, in the end, it takes all of us to end the sweatshop labor practices of Nike and other corporations. Even our school as a whole can take charge in ending the way we dehumanize others for our own profit. After all, how can we foster men and women who will enact change if we overlook the fact that each and every one of our athletes wears a uniform created through the blood, sweat and tears of those trying to make a better life for themselves?

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Article comments

Feb. 8, 2013 at 8:05 a.m.

David Stone: Poorly researched. Filled with unsubstantiated generalizations. A poor reflection on the journalism department of my alma mater.

Feb. 8, 2013 at 1:03 p.m.

Steve: Did you even read before you posted, señor stone?

Feb. 8, 2013 at 6:55 p.m.

Scott: Extremely poor, unsubstantiated journalism throughout the entire piece. This is embarrassing to Truman State University. If you would like to read some real journalism on the topic, please see the below link (from a credible source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-03/nike-raises-factory-labor-and-sustainability-standards.html

Feb. 8, 2013 at 7:05 p.m.

liz valentini: I agree with Steve, or perhaps Mr. Stone has blinders . Our world still has the the unbelievable slave drivers who will take advantage of the poor and underprivileged to make a huge profit . You don't think this is going on? It is well hidden. If cheap labor is to be , at least treat the laborers with respect and by all means do not brutalize them . They are flesh and blood like us all and just want to survive. Now it's unfortunate, that a company as Nike might be guilty......but if the shoe fits, they might be wearing it,!!!!!!!!!!!

March 5, 2013 at 10:14 p.m.

Bao: I agree with Liz, and i thoroughly enjoyed the article. Keep up the good work, and don't let the Corporate-Sponsored trolls (Scott and David) stop you. That Bloomberg Article is the unsubstantiated one, seeing as how it provides zero proof of any actual significant changes. Rather, it seems like an attempt to do the minimum possible to push off tackling the issue at the core, which is essentially Greed. There are no reason good enough to justify paying the employees so little, while selling their products for so much. I've seen some Nike shoes at several Hundred bucks each... yet these workers get around $1 per hour? I would keep blasting Nike if i were you. And thanks for taking the time to write this one also.

Sept. 20, 2013 at 12:43 a.m.

Tracy: I have to agree with Scott and Dave. Prior to publishing an article like this, perhaps the author could reach out to other resources to substantiate the opinions of Mr. Keady. As an expat that has lived and worked overseas in different countries throughout Asia for over 10 years to improve working conditions in various industries, I find the author's comments very naive and poorly researched. Bao, you could argue that article doesn't provide proof of any actual changes. How does Ms. Hase's article provide proof? Perhaps the author could interview Nike to find out what they are doing to work with the developing governments to improve their labor laws so they workers are better protected under the laws of the countries.

July 27, 2014 at 9:36 p.m.

Renaldo: Actually, what's interesting is that Keady did his work in 1998. Though Nike still doesn't have the cleanest track record, this information is not incorrect--simply a bit outdated. It points to some overall issues that we should all be doing more research on, and not just attacking a student's column.

Aug. 24, 2014 at 6:56 p.m.

Julie: this article gave me valuable information for my assignment. :)

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