Update June 29, 2010

Hey Readers,

Sorry for the lack of posts for the last few months. Our writers just completed their first years of college and are enjoying a well deserved break. But a few of us are still taking summer classes. While I’m busy studying for physics in the upcoming weeks, I’m going to try to write some new blogs every so often. Some topics I’m going to cover include how to shop at Walmart (if you have to), ethical clothing companies, and the role of technology in globalization of markets.

David Axe

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.

Codes of Conduct

One of the purposes of this blog it to try to help consumers make ethical purchasing decisions. By teaching others to ask questions about what they purchase, we might limit the amount of exploitation that goes in creating those products. However, finding out which companies leave the smallest ethical footprint is not an easy task. Corporations purposefully and consistently gloss over and distort not only the presentation of their goods, but also the way in which they display, or fail to display, the origins of said goods. For example, take a look at Nike’s Website.
Shoes
Plastered everywhere are colorful shoes, clothing, accessories, all of the athletic products offered by Nike incorporated. Crafted with the sole purpose of increasing profits, these images try to influence the purchasing decisions of consumers. But where do these products come from? Does Nike ever hint to the conditions under which its shoes are made? I tried to answer these questions by navigating around and searching on Nike’s website. However, no matter where I looked, there seemed to be no information on how Nike obtains its items for sale. All the information on the site was related to advertising and consuming—any search inquiry lead to the most nearly matched name of a shoe. I could not locate anything that outlined Nike’s guidelines as a company, the code of conduct with which the company tries to operate.  So I tried an indirect approach: I used Google to search for Nike’s code of conduct. I found  only a two page PDF file from 2007 that, admittedly, did describe the company’s stance on issues such as Forced Labor, Child Labor, and Compensation. However, some questions still persisted in my mind. Why did I have to use a search engine to find Nike’s code of conduct–why is this code not somewhere on Nike’s main website? How many people actually see it? And finally, does Nike actually live up to the standards proposed by its own ethical code?

First, I looked to see how well Nike follows its own standards. I found an article describing recent findings on Nike. According to the article, ” … between 50 and 100 percent of Nike factories require more working hours than those permitted by the Code of Conduct. In 25 to 50 percent of factories, workers are required to work 7 days a week, and in the same percentage of factories, workers are still paid less than the local minimum wage”. Not very well it seems.

For my other questions, I again turned towards Google, this time Google trends. Because a Google search of this term seems to be the fastest way to find it, I tried to compare the search trends of Nike versus Nike code of conduct, to get a grasp of how many people take a concern over Nike’s supposed rules of conduct. Here are the results:

nike nike code of conduct

As you can see, the amount of searches for Nike code of conduct does not even compare to the number of searches for Nike. In fact, it is too small to be pictured. Obviously, the question of the ethics of Nike does not present itself very often in the minds of consumers, at least those who use Google. Try repeating this procedure–looking on company websites, then using a Google search–with other companies. Adidas, Puma, Under Armour—all seem to glance over the issue of origin and ethics on their websites.

All of this highlights an important aspect of the corporations that produce the things we wear, eat, and use daily. The very question of “who and where” in assembling the stuff that makes our society possible is concealed, hidden behind veils of flashy advertising, public figures, and humorous commercials.