Pressure Grows on Sweat-Shops
Patrick Harrington        

Pressure is mounting on companies which use sweatshop labour. In issue number four of Mother Earth we published an article entitled For Victory Over Nike. We reported the poor treatment of workers at PT Hardaya Aneka Shoes Industry (HASI) - a Nike contractor in Tangerang, Indonesia. Since our last issue the Charity Oxfam has launched a Clothes Code campaign which is challenging the top five clothing retailers in the UK to adopt a code of conduct which guarantees humane working conditions for workers. In the United States students in over a hundred colleges are advocating a boycott of sportswear made by workers on poverty wages in developing countries. Companies are beginning to respond.

Nike is a case in point. In a speech before the National Press Club, Nike CEO Phil Knight responded to the sweatshop accusations of the company's critics by announcing a six-point anti-sweatshop initiative.

Referring to the "cloud that has been over Nike's head over the last couple of years," Knight said that Nike will raise the minimum age for its footwear workers, require all factories to comply with U.S. indoor air quality regulations, and allow selected NGOs to participate in its monitoring.

According to the Nike web site: "This year the program will include selecting NGO partners to participate in monitoring/auditing programs inthree countries: Indonesia, China and Vietnam; and a commitment to make summaries of these audits public."

Nike critics continued to push the company on three fronts: living wage,freedom of association, and independent monitoring.

"Substandard wages keep factory workers in poverty and force them to work excessive amounts of over time to fulfill their basic needs. Nike refused to acknowledge its responsibility to pay workers a living wage," said Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange.

She added: "In China, Indonesia and Vietnam (the three countries where Nike makes the majority of its shoes) workers are denied the basic right to organize independent unions. Nike should commit itself to working with the international human rights community to pressure local governments to release jailed labor leaders and change labor laws and practices to reflect internationally recognized labor rights."

Jo-Ann Mort of UNITE said: "The inclusion of NGOs and outside monitors is a step in the right direction, but it will not be sufficient if monitors employed by Nike, who are not truly independent, are allowed the final word on inspections."

Nike will raise the minimum age in its footwear factories to 18, and in its apparel factories to age 16. The age requirement will not apply to workers currently employed in Nike plants.

Nike will also fund research and forums at U.S. universities, sponsor education programs for workers in its factories, and set up a micro loan program for footwear workers.

The text of Knight's speech is available at the nike site.


Find out more about the human rights groups' sweatshop campaign at this website .

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