The Feminist Majority, along with the National Organization for Women, the Ms. Foundation, and other women’s groups, held a news conference deploring the use of sweatshops in Vietnam, Indonesia and China by NIKE. NIKE has spent hundreds of millions marketing to women with empowering advertising about women and girls in sports, but at the same time has used sweatshops to produce their sports products. Over a dozen women’s groups and individual women, including the Coalition of Labor Union Women and author Alice Walker, signed a letter to NIKE president Philip Knight asking him to use just 10% of NIKE’s advertising budget to improve working conditions for factory workers, 80% to 90% of whom are women.
“The message in NIKE’s women’s empowerment ads is strong,” said Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal at a press conference to release the letter, “but there’s a disconnect between that message and the way NIKE pays and treats it workers.”
The campaign against NIKE, organized by Global Exchange, reveals that sweatshop workers are paid less than a livable wage, are forced to work 12 hours a day, six days a week as well as frequent overtime, and are subject to verbal and physical abuse, unsafe working conditions, and sexual harassment. For example Vietnamese workers are paid $1.60 per day, when three basic Vietnamese meals cost $2.10 a day. The workers often live six to a small, cramped room and receive food from their relatives in the countryside in order to survive. Many of the workers are teenagers. Workers are often prohibited from talking and are allowed only one bathroom break per eight-hour shift, and only two drinks of water. Workers who break rules or make mistakes are punished by fines and/or by corporal punishment: being made to stand or run in the sun, being made to kneel down with hands in the air. Workers lose fingers and hands in unsafe machinery, and are regularly exposed to the carcinogenic chemical benzene, which has been banned in the U.S.
“These girls can’t even eat three square meals or go to school, let alone wear NIKE shoes and play sports,” said Smeal. “NIKE is robbing them of their lives.”
A letter to NIKE, signed by the women’s groups, demands that workers to be paid at least $3.00 per day. It also calls for workers to meet regularly with independent monitors who would make sure the factory is obeying safety and overtime laws. For more information or to sign on to the letter, contact Kim Miyoshi at Global Exchange: 415-255-7296. Or see the Global Exchange Web site: http://www.globalexchange.org.