Column: Nike deserves reprimand for inhumane working conditions

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

“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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