Another month, another exposé.
This month I’m highlighting the reality behind one of the most iconic brands in the world. The majority of us possess something with that glorious tick on it, and I’m sure many of you, like me, get overly gassed about their trainers. I even try to avoid overwearing my hightops (luckily found in a charity shop) just because I fear ruining their pengness.
At the same time, it is crucial that we understand the cost that comes with our consumption of their branded products, and the suffering that comes with it. Many will turn a blind eye, but how can we when we are unwillingly complicit in the situation??
This is exactly why we need to be aware, why we need to call out Nike, and why we need to keep the voices of workers loud and clear. As Nike continues to shroud their voices with a glamorous mask consisting of million dollar ads, embarrassing attempts to pander to certain demographics to show they care (yes I’m @’ing their Nike hijab #cringe), and using A list stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Bella Hadid to promote their goods, they are attempting to make us forget our humanity, our basic morals, our belief in basic human rights, and to ‘Just Do It.’
Nike Inc is an American multinational corporation designing, creating, and selling footwear, clothing, equipment, accessories and services. It is one of the world’s largest suppliers of athletes shoes and apparel. In fact, just last year, their revenue totalled $32,376,000, with a gross profit of nearly $15m.
In the ‘90s, Nike underwent harsh criticism after exploitative, sweatshop conditions were discovered in their factories. Ever since, Nike has strived to recover their positive image. Indeed, they were the first company to disclose the contracted factories they used, and according to one of its reports, 86% of it’s factories meet basic standards. Their efforts have succeeded, with many hailing Nike for having led the way for transparency.
However, recent research indicates this is not the case, and that their insane profits come at the expense of worker’s rights and dignity, particularly for the large percentage of women working for them.
Check out some of the most recent findings exposing Nike for its crimes against humanity.
Mass Fainting in Cambodia
Last month, a report showed that over the past year, more than 500 workers in factories supplying Nike were hospitalised due to ‘mass faintings.’ This is a common phenomena in Cambodia, where a large number of garment workers faint simultaneously. The most serious episode involved 360 workers collapsing over three days. The women collapsing were working 10 hour days, six days a week, and reported feeling exhausted and hungry, while temperatures reached as high as 37C. In one episode, 28 people collapsed while rushing to escape a fire. None of these factories were paying living wage.
Another issue in these factories included the fact that workers were only given short-term contracts, which would only be renewed if workers agreed to working overtime. This only added to the exhaustion of workers.
Working Conditions in Factories in Vietnam
(These are all findings from 2016)
Living Conditions: Women were found living in squalid conditions near the factories, where they mostly shared single rooms with 2-5 family members.
Wages: Pay is so low workers are unable to meet their basic needs. Four of the workers had been laid off after their factory burned down, so were particularly struggling. The Worker’s Rights Consortium found that the living wage for garment workers here is three times the current minimum wage.
According to managers, Nike’s prices hadn’t kept up with the factories’ rising costs in materials and wages. Indeed, where the price Nike paid for clothes increased by just 2.5%, there was an average 9% increase in wages- putting a strain on the manufacturers.
“Workers still have nothing in Vietnam…Our lives are very difficult.”
Punishments: Arbitrary punishments from factory managers include: Financial penalties and threats of dismissal for making mistakes, not working fast enough, sitting down and lateness. Workers were also intimidated and frequently humiliated by managers. Managers would shout at them, hurl insults or swear at them, or threaten to fire them if they complained about work pressure or low pay. Workers in one factory reported seeing managers throwing shoes at workers, and one witnessed a manager grab the nose of a worker and threaten to slap her if she filed a complaint. The same worker also claimed her manager had called her a “di cho,” the equivalent to bitch or whore. Other workers have also spoken of vulgar names being aimed at female workers.
Ridiculous work rules include a ban on yawning, wearing headphones and having a snack on the factory floor. Workers would be harassed for having a toilet break, including being photographed when they entered and exit the bathroom.
“They’re just so mean,” she said. “‘You’re an adult, make people respect you!’”
Lack of Child Care Provisions: Mothers are having to choose between sending their children to unlicensed child care services considered under qualified or dangerous, or leaving them with family in home villages they could visit only once or twice a year. One mother’s child was poorly, so was sent to live with her family, as she couldn’t afford the hospital visits. During the next two years she only saw her daughter once, “I missed her so much. I cried every night and felt very guilty, but what was I supposed to do?” She brought her back after 2 years but had to leave her in an unlicensed daycare centre for 2/3 of her salary. “I was very worried, because I often hear stories of how they slap children and shout at them.” Her aunt’s 14-month old baby child had choked to death at one of these places.
Inability to mobilise: One worker explained the difficulty with complaining about working conditions: “We have voices, but we can’t really speak.”
The response to complaints was to “make your life harder and try to make you quiet,” and workers also explained that they felt constantly watched by company cameras, which they believed was to deter workers from stealing or organising protests/strikes.
At Hansae factory, the head of the union is the factory’s top human resources manager. This makes it difficult to engage in any discussions with management. As one worker put it : “Any wage negotiation at Hansae would, quite literally, involve management negotiating with itself.”
Audits: During inspections, workers had never been asked by an inspector, whose visits are usually announced ahead of time to workers, how they liked their job.
“They only care about the quality, they never ask us anything.”
Discrimination against pregnant women: When workers are pregnant, they are required to work less hours. However, their targets aren’t lowered and remain the same, meaning they must work extra hard to complete their quotas.
“When you’re pregnant, you only have to work seven hours a day,” she explained, “but they didn’t lower my daily quota, so I have to work extra hard and this is very tough.”
One pregnant worker received a small hazardous work bonus for working in the gluing section, but feared that the chemicals would have a negative effect on her unborn baby.
Some pregnant workers have been fired when it was discovered they were pregnant.
In November 2015, it was found that a supplier for Nike, Puma, Columbia, and Adidas had been laying off dozens of pregnant women. When these brands were informed, Columbia, Puma, and Adidas said they would ask the factory to stop their actions, while Nike made no such commitment.
Working conditions: One factory failed to maintain required temperature levels, resulting in workers routinely collapsing unconscious due to overworking and excessive heat. They were then forced to return to work minutes after waking up. Forced overtime, as well as denial of sick leave and toilet breaks was also found, along with exposure to hazardous solvents. One worker was forced to work overtime despite having a funeral to attend.
Working Conditions in Indonesia
Working conditions in Indonesia are very similar to those in Vietnam.
High targets: Workers are expected to fulfil extremely high targets and are punished if they are unable to do so. They are given an hour break each day but conditions prevent these breaks from being a period of rest. For example, in one factory each building had only one restroom, with 15 stalls for 850 women, so much of the break was spent waiting in the queue.
“I work in the sewing section, and I’m expected to process 100 shoes per hour. If we don’t meet our quotas, we just get yelled at. Before, they’d be using hands, everything. But now, we just get yelled at. And then the quotas are piled into the next day.”
Waste: Burn piles are found scattered around factories. These are piles of scrap materials from garment factories that are piled up and set on fire. Sections of shoes are found littered everywhere.
Poor meals: Workers are given one meal a day that, despite no longer having maggots in them, smell bad so they hardly eat it.
Health + Safety: Other than fire training, no other safety training takes place.
“Because I work in the sewing section, my biggest risk is to get my hands cut by the needle, and there’s no instruction on how to avoid an accident.”
Long hours: Factory shifts are supposed to be 10 hours, five days a week, then five hours on the sixth day, but workers were routinely not paid for additional hours. When workers filed for the salary they were owed, they were asked by management to only take a bit, as otherwise the factory would be moved to another country (an example of the pressure factories face to please corporations, and the constant fear of losing work to places where wages are lower).
Nike Denies Monitoring Organisations Access to Factories
in 2015, the Worker’s Rights Consortium (WRC; the world’s premier anti-sweatshop monitoring organisation) sought access to the Vietnamese factory Hansae. However, the WRC were denied access for 9 months. In 2016, the WRC decided to report on the working conditions in Hansae using offsite interviews with workers instead, revealing some horrific findings mentioned above. These findings had been missed by the Fair Labour Association, a self-monitoring organisation funded by Nike, which was meant to inspect Nike’s factories. Two months after this, Nike responded by allowing them access to the factory.
Although they were granted permission , they were then continually refused future access for investigations in other factories. After the sweatshop scandal in the 90s, universities in America now require Nike to be monitored for its working conditions. However, Nike is the only University of Washington-licensed apparel brand to block factory investigations by one of the university’s affiliated monitoring organisaitons, and is the only collegiate apparel brand that refuses to sign onto anti-sweatshop standards, which require it to allow the WRC or another organisation into their factories.
Nike says it can’t control who inspects a supplier’s factory, and that it wouldn’t normally assist an outside group like the WRC. “These are not our factories to control,” But this just shows that Nike do not want to be accountable to an independent investigative body, and want to police themselves.
Ability to Organise Denied
In 2013, garment workers in Cambodia striked for increased wages, which led to the sacking of 415 workers identified by management as participating in the strike. Arrest warrants were issued for 16 people: eight were jailed, while the others were in hiding. Management forced workers to give their fingerprints and continued to intimidate and dismiss those supporting the strike and calling for the release of the eight imprisoned trade unionists.
During the strike workers were dispersed by over 1000 riot police with stun batons on numerous occasions. over 30 workers were injured including 2 pregnant women who lost their babies when they were epushed to the ground by police.
on one occasion, at least 23 Cambodian workers were injured among the 3000 mostly female workers protesting.
“There was a pregnant woman among them. She lost blood and then she lost the baby.”
In 2013, workers in factories supplying Nike protested for higher wages, resulting in authorities raising the minimum wage. But an investigation found that at least six Nike suppliers resisted implementing the pay rise. At one factory, high-ranking members of the military accompanied managers as they pressured mainly female employees to sign a document stating they were willing to go without a pay rise.
“We got summoned by military personnel that the company had hired to interrogate us and they intimidated us.”
Factory managers also asked trade union officials to sign what they thought was an attendance sheet, but it was attached to a document stating that they supported the company’s request.
Under Indonesian law, factories can apply to be excused from paying the minimum wage if they could demonstrate it would our them financially, and that their workers back this position. All but one of the 7/8 Nike suppliers were seeking exemption.
Money Invested in Sponsors vs Money Invested in Workers
Football championships are an opportunity for the main sportswear brands (Nike, Adidas and Puma) to release new marketing campaigns. These often have extremely high budgets. For example, Nike’s last World Cup campaign cost an estimated 68m dollars! Deals among the 10 biggest teams with brands rose from €262 to more than €405m since 2013. In addition, annual contracts with Lionel Messi and Paul Pogba reached sums of between €35-€40m in 2015.
For each shoe model, the brands set their desired retail price and profit margin, and from there calculate the maximum production cost for the item. From this, they determine how much workers are to be paid.
Each year, there are significant changes in the list of partner factories, due to brands moving from one country to another seeking cheaper labour, in order to increase their profit margins. Indeed, Nike are massively shifting their sourcing from China, where wages have significantly increased, to places where workers are paid less and worker conditions are less regulated, such as Myanmar, allowing significant labour cost savings.
So how much do you reckon ends up going to workers? Clue: not a lot.
In 2015, 2% of the retail price of footwear went to workers’ wages, compared with 1% of consumer or professional jerseys. For one Euro 2016 jersey, workers received less than €0.65, while the jersey was sold for about €85.
As one worker in Indonesia put it:
“Nike is a big brand. They can have (soccer great Cristiano) Ronaldo and Tiger Woods as their ambassadors. For me, a decade of working for them isn’t even one of their contracts. Of course it needs to be improved.”
This is also extremely ironic, given the huge investment in the ‘Girl Effect’, an organisation run by Nike, that works to end poverty globally, by giving girls and women the opportunity to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
Don’t push out such ideas if you aren’t even willing to empower your OWN workers by paying them a decent living wage. THAT is how you get people out of poverty.
In fact, paying a living wage would only mean a few dozen cents more added to the final price. But with these savings, sportswear brands are able to invest in their lavish marketing. The Clean Clothes Campaign found that the ndorsement costs of the 10 largest European football clubs since 2013 would have been sufficient to pay living wages to 165,000 workers in Vietnam and 110,000 workers in Indonesia. ‘Low wages result not from a lack of means, but from a global business model that should be reexamined.’
So now you know the situation, what can we do?
1) Raise awareness: share this, or anything you feel will be valuable to let people know what is going down. We cannot add to the silence that is being subjected upon workers. It isn’t right. So please, tell your friends, your family, your ex etc, let them know what is happening.
2) Call out Nike: Every time you buy something from Nike, or browse on their website, why not take a couple of minutes out of your time to tweet them, email them etc, and ask what they’re doing to improve workers’ rights? It won’t take long, and if more of us do it, they will realise that the masses are ‘woke’ and aren’t blinded by their bullshit (sorry for my language).
- Twitter: @nike
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nike/
- Live Chat: https://help-en-gb.nike.com/app/contact/country/gb/p/5623
- Phone number: (0) 2076604453
3) Get Involved: There are awesome activists doing big tings out here, especially American university students, who are relentlessly calling out Nike and protesting against any contracts their uni has with Nike. Do check out the United Students Against Sweatshops, and all the work they do- they’re sick. They are also holding a Global Call to Action Against Nike on July 25th, in response to the continuation of exploitation in their chain. find out more here
References and other sources:
Mass fainting in Cambodia: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jun/25/female-cambodian-garment-workers-mass-fainting
Workers wages vs Endorsements