In an attempt to counter criticism over poor working conditions in its third world factories, Nike is offering to send some 10 students to the 41 factories in which they make college-licensed apparel. Students have been among the most active and harshest critics of purported sweatshops conditions in Nike factories abroad.
Students from universities that have a licensing deal with Nike can apply for the program by submitting a one-page essay on “why you are qualified to work as a monitor in the factories.” Nike has posted the essay form on its www.nikebiz.com Web site. A watchdog group at St. John’s University will choose the winners. Participants in the program will travel with observers from PricewaterhouseCoopers, an accounting firm designated by Nike to audit working conditions in its international factories.
To salvage its badly damaged image, Nike has made efforts to improve working conditions in its third world factories such as that in Vietnam, which has seen improvements in areas such as cleaner air and independent monitoring. However, Nike has yet to improve on the most critical element, workers’ wages, claiming that overseas wages are driven by the overseas market. A survey by Bonwick & Associates revealed that workers in Vietnam making Nike and Reebok shoes make 51.5% less than the lowest skilled workers in 99 foreign-owned companies. Workers, many of them teenaged girls, are forced to work excessive amounts of overtime in order to cover their expenses and often are supporting families.