For years, I’ve been a consumer of Nike products. Many of us are. While expensive, these goods still seem reasonably priced in their market. There isn’t even much diversity in the pricing of athletic goods when you come to consider the prices of New Balance, Adidas, Asics, and the other athletic apparel giants in the industry today. Also, Nike’s products have been backed by legendary athletes and popular childhood heroes (Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods to name a few) for decades, which makes the Nike brand image even more appealing. Considering these facts, it’s easy to see how many of us would turn to Nike when looking to buy these products.
A little over a decade ago, Nike was shamefully brought into public light for its unethical labor practices. The company was became a global symbol of abusive labor practices because of its overbearing financial success in its industry. Nike originally denied the claims with “the initial attitude of, ‘Hey, we don’t own the factories. We don’t control what goes on in there'” (Nike Director, Todd McKean). After wave upon wave of criticism, Nike eventually began efforts to re-brand itself as a leader in human rights by creating groups such as the Fair Labor Association. What many consumers today don’t realize is that Nike is still a leader in unsustainable and highly unethical practices.
The video featured above is a compilation of shocking information from “Behind the Swoosh“, which is an in-depth look into Nike’s material production and the labor force behind it. Co-Founders of Educating for Justice, Jim Keady and Leslie Kretzu, went undercover as Nike sweatshop workers in Tangerang, Indonesia. On the standard living condition, they report that “we lived in a 9’x9′ cement box that was over 100 degrees with 100% humidity, a small window, and certainly no air conditioning. [There was] no furniture, you slept on a very thin mat on an uneven cement floor that was covered in shelf paper. The streets outside of the home are lined by open sewers, so during the rainy season the streets are flooded with feces.”
During their undercover stay at this Indonesia sweatshop facility, they spoke with co-workers to gather more information. One woman reports that she works a 77-84 hour workweek and can make 20 cents an hour, which is substantially lower than Indonesia’s minimum wage. “We’re powerless,” she says, “our only choice is to stay and suffer, or speak out and be fired. They growl and slap us when they get angry.” On average, an employee can make 7 cents per shoe, and an average of 15 women are hit on the head by supervisors every hour.
In retrospect of the time spent living and working in these sweatshop conditions, Jim Keady confidently states: “If you wanted to pick a company that completely violate everything that Catholic social teaching is about, Nike would be your perfect case study.”
So this holiday season when you are looking for items to gift to others, or a way to splurge on yourself, consider the repercussions that the item you’re looking at has had on others. Look into whether or not you stand behind the values and practices that were in place during the production of that item.
Your sustainably clothed blogger,