Nike- Just Don’t Do It

In an earlier post, I researched Nike’s code of conduct and the prevalence of public thought about such codes of conduct. Though I briefly mentioned Nike’s poor performance in complying to its own standards, I felt that a more in depth coverage of the corporation’s practices was necessary. Thus, in this post, I will explore further three aspects of Nike’s unethical trade practices: its refusal to fully compensate its workers with fair wages, its continual use of unsanitary and unsafe conditions in its factories, and its use of child labor around the world.

In my previous post I mentioned an article describing the extent to which Nike fairly pays its workers.  As you have seen, this amounted to very little. The Article found that, in some factories, “ … workers are still paid less than the local minimum wage.” Obviously, A company cannot present itself to be ethical if it does not even pay workers the area’s already low minimum wage. Another website compared the minimum wages of countries which house Nike factories and interviewed an Indonesian factory worker: “ “If I don’t work overtime, I can’t survive,” says Baltazar at PT Hasi Nike factory in Jakarta. He works an average of 40 overtime hours a week.” Nike cannot continue to support this kind of labor—the idea of someone working eighty plus hours a week, just to survive, should not be acceptable in the twenty first century.

Though Nike has been trying to give the public an image of itself as a changed company, Nike has failed to better the working conditions of its factories. For example, one article suggests that “ … significant health and safety issues still remain. Workers in some sections of the plant still faced overexposures to hazardous chemicals, and to heat and noise levels. Respiratory illness rates remained a concern”.  Another article uncovered that, in addition to health hazards, many of Nike’s factory workers have to deal with ” … widespread verbal and physical abuse, shockingly high rates of sexual harassment, forced overtime, [denial of] sick leave, inadequate access to medical care, and … worker deaths.” These working conditions must be improved and Nike’s actions cannot be tolerated.

Probably the most frightening practice employed by Nike is its use of child labor. One case study observed that children around the world, “ … some as young as 4 and 5 years of age, are involved in the production line.” The disparity in wealth between nations is so great that children in one country produce the toys for another country’s children. For example, the case study suggests that “ … if you go to a shop to buy your child a new soccer ball … there is a good possibility that the ball has been made by someone your child’s age or even younger.” It seems that the ” … Nike success story is not based on good name and advertising alone but also attached to it is the tears of tortured workers and child labor.”

As a final note, I encourage readers to make an effort to change this world for the better. Until Nike pays workers fairly, improves working conditions, and ceases its use of child labor, decrease the amount of Nike products that you use. And this should not just apply to Nike. Research the companies and brands you buy from daily and try to limit transactions with those which have questionable ethical backgrounds. By consciously thinking about where the things we buy come from and making just small changes in our purchasing decisions, we can greatly improve the lives of many people around the world.

So as to buying that new pair of Nike sneakers: Just Don’t Do It.

Unethical Companies: Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola is the largest soda provider in the world. Although it is widely consumed, many people are unaware of its labor violations.

The company has come under fire in the last few months for the way in which its workers are treated in Guatemala. The primary source of all the violence is the workers’ union. On February 25, 2010, Coke was sued by those Guatemalan laborers, who claim that they, “endured a campaign of violence” from the people who worked for the bottling or processing plants owned by Coke (Business Week).

This violence took place in Guatemala City. The perpetrators were employed by Incasa, which operated the bottling plant (Business Week). One of the plaintiffs is Jose Palacios, who faced violence after rejoining the workers’ union in 2004. Not only was he shot at and threatened at the bottling plant, but armed men broke into his home and threatened his family (Atlanta Business News). A few weeks after this invasion, in 2005, he was fired without a cause (North American Congress on Latin America).

Another plaintiff in the case is Jose Chavez, a prominent union leader. In 2008, after he participated in collective-bargaining activities in Guatemala City, returned home to his waiting family. Upon his arrival, Chavez’s son and nephew were brutally murdered in front of his eyes and his 16 year old daughter was gang-raped (North American Congress on Latin America). This violence was a response to his activity in the union.

Coca-Cola has faced legal action by workers before. In 2001, it was sued by union laborers in Colombia for violence against unionized workers. In a statement at Coke’s annual meeting of shareholders in 2005, the company claimed,“Our company and our bottling partners have been accused of complicity in the murder of union members and the ongoing intimidation of union members and of the suppression of union activity in Colombia. The allegations are not true” (PBS). The company paid more attention to the problem only after an international boycott began in 2003 (Business Week). Ultimately, Coca-Cola and its bottlers were found not guilty and cleared of any wrong-doing by Colombian courts (PBS). When the case was brought to the United States, Coca-Cola fought to have its name removed from the lawsuit and got its wish.

Although this has not been widely publicized, the labor violations of Coca-Cola are a prominent issue. Consumers of Coke, and other items produced by corporations with foggy labor practices, have to ask themselves how they can make a difference. Students at colleges across the United States, one being Rutgers Univeristy, have started boycotts of the soda. Rutgers students were successful in their activism, and the university has switched its contract to Pepsi (Killer Coke).

A new documentary was released in 2009 called “The Coca-Cola Case.” It was filmed by German Gutierezz and Carmen Garcia to highlight “the reality of union busting at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia, Guatemala and Turkey” (Green Muze). This movie reveals the practices of just one of the many multi-national corporations and upon watching it, the consumers will hopefully be inspired to better inform themselves about the products they consume (Green Muze). Here is a link to the trailer for this documentary: The Coca-Cola Case.

Coca-Cola is one of the most powerful corporations in the world. Its business practices have to be questioned by the consumer to ensure that labor violations are not being committed. The consumers can learn more about the issue at http://killercoke.org/.

About Sweatshops

A sweatshop is considered an employer who violates more than one state or federal labor law that governs minimum wage and overtime, child labor, industrial homework, occupational safety and health, worker’s compensation or industry regulation. They prevail both domestically in the U.S. and internationally. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that more than 50% of sewing shops in the US are considered to be sweatshops. Most of the worker in sweatshops are usually young women and immigrant workers that are poor and thus have to work long hours. They earn as little as 1/2 to 1/4 of what they need to feed and shelter, including energy, clothing, education and transportation, for their families. (BusinessWeek) Some sweatshops don’t even allow workers to use the bathroom and force them to go through pregnancy tests and take birth control pills so that they don’t have to pay maternity leave costs.

The workers also have to tolerate verbal and physical abuse, since managers want them to complete their quotas each day. Women workers especially have to tolerate sexual abuse, which are common in sweatshops. Workplace injuries are also very common. These worker have to go thorough all of these just so they can earn their low wage. However, most of them don’t have any other option other than to work at these sweatshops, in these conditions. When these workers try to organize to defend their interests, their efforts are always suppressed by various forces, such as the police, managers, etc. As an example, workers in Mexico who are making jeans, have been forced to work all night shifts, and have been prevented from leaving the factory by armed security guards.

“I spend all day on my feet, working with hot vapor that usually burns my skin, and by the end of the day my arms and shoulders are in pain,” a Mexican worker told labor rights investigators. “We have to meet the quota of 1,000 pieces per day. That translates to more than a piece every minute. The quota is so high that we cannot even go to the bathroom or drink water or anything for the whole day.”

In the exhausting atmosphere of cost cutting by firms, work is given little value and thus workers are provided with little respect. Sweatshops can be viewed as production units than people who make them. (NYTimes) They suffer abuse and intimidation for their supervisors. Verbal abuse is the most common that these workers have to deal with. Workers also report that they have been harassed and persecuted by shop managers. These managers especially target those who they think aren’t working fast enough, and thus use shouting or yelling towards them. Physical abuse is also common. For example, workers at a factory in Mexico, who are making apparel for Nike have said that managers frequently hit and slap them, according to the Workers’ Rights Consortium. Most garment workers are young women who are in their teens and early twenties, who have left their homes so they can earn money to send back to their families. They have especially had to endure sexual abuse.

Nearly 75% of the retail price of a garment is profit for the retailer and manufacture. The garment industry in not the only scandalous industry for their involvement in sweatshops, but other industries include tires, auto parts, shoes, toys, computer parts, electronics, etc. Sweatshops exists in almost every country in the world, but are especially found in those where there are poor, desperate, exploitable workers. There seems to be a correlation between how poor a country is and how exploitable its people are, as they have no other option since they have to support their families. Also, to keep costs low, apparel shop owners normally pay workers based on how many units they make. The amount of money they get depends on the number of shirts, shoes, etc., they complete in their shift. (VeganPeace) Due to this, if they want to make enough money to support their families, then they have work hard and long, including longer then their shifts.

Exposure to toxic chemicals and workplace injuries also pose as a risk to apparel workers. In most of these sweatshop factories, these workers are not given masks to put over their noses and mouths, which expose them to tiny cloth fibers that could get stuck in their lungs. This is only one example of one type of industry and there are many more. In order to prevent these workers from stealing the items that they make, the factories sometimes have their doors and windows locked, creating a fire hazard.

By: Haren

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