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Women's Groups vs. Nike

/* Written  9:08 AM  Oct 27, 1997 by clr in igc:labr.announcem */
/* ---------- "Women's Groups vs. Nike" ---------- */
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Nike Supports Women in Its Ads but Not Its Factories, Groups Say
By Steven Greenhouse
New York Times October 26, 1997

A coalition of women's groups has attacked Nike as hypocritical for its new
television commercials that feature female athletes, asserting that
something is wrong when the company calls for empowering American women but
pays its largely female overseas work force poorly.

The commercials show women saying they will be stronger, healthier and more
independent if they are allowed to play sports.

In a letter to Nike's chairman, Philip Knight, the coalition, which includes
the National Organization for Women and the Ms. Foundation for Women, wrote,
"While the women who wear Nike shoes in the United States are 
encouraged to
perform their best, the Indonesian, Vietnamese and Chinese women making the
shoes often suffer from inadequate wages, corporal punishment, forced
overtime and/or sexual harassment."

Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority, a research and advocacy
group, said: "The message in the empowerment ad is strong, but there's a
disconnect between that message and the way Nike pays and treats its
workers, especially its women workers. The sweatshops, which all of us
thought were a thing of the past, are back again. And just like the
feminists at the turn of the century fought them, it's incumbent on us 
to do
the same."

Nike's factories have become a target for labor rights groups, which have
repeatedly said that they pay too little and force workers to toil in poor
conditions. Global Exchange, a human rights group in San Francisco that has
often attacked Nike, seized on the new television commercials to rally
women's groups behind a new effort to criticize the company.

The coalition is calling on Nike to let local independent monitors inspect
factories in Asia and to increase pay, suggesting that its wages in Vietnam
be raised to $3 a day from $1.60 a day. Vada Manager, a Nike spokesman, said
the women's groups misunderstood Nike's role in Asia, adding that its
factories in Vietnam, Indonesia and China pay considerably more than do most
factories in those countries.

"Nike has created some 500,000 superior jobs with good wages around the
world in developing economies," Manager said. "The job opportunities 
that we
have provided to women and men in developing economies like Vietnam and
Indonesia have provided a bridge of opportunity for these individuals to
have a much better quality of life."

Ms. Smeal said, "We think it's great they're providing jobs. It's just that
the level of the wages should be increased and the working conditions
improved." Others who signed the letter to Nike include Alice Walker, the
author, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the Black Women's Agenda and the
Coalition of Labor Union Women.

The coalition's letter said many of Nike's workers in Vietnam could "barely
afford three meals a day let alone transportation, rent, clothing, health
care and much more." But Nike officials pointed to a recent study by
Dartmouth College researchers that concluded that Nike's daily wages in
Vietnam were four times the cost of obtaining three meals a day there.

The letter also faulted Nike for physically abusing workers, referring 
to an
incident in Vietnam in which a manager punished workers by making them run
laps in the sun.

Manager acknowledged occasional abuses and said the abusive managers had
been dismissed. He added that the company's factories had passed inspections
by Andrew Young, the civil rights leader.

[Note from Thuyen Nguyen, of the Vietnam Labor Watch: "It must be noted that
Nike has been refusing to sign a living wage provision as proposed by
President Clinton's Apparel Industry Partnership, yet at the same time the
company has been telling people that they are paying above a living 
wage in
Vietnam and indonesia."]

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