Date: Sat, 5 Jul 1997 08:18:43 -0600
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: EW Plawiuk <ewplawiuk@MAIL.GEOCITIES.COM>
Subject: Researcher debunks Young's Nike report
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Date: Fri, 4 Jul 1997 14:42:31 -0700 (PDT)
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Subject: Researcher debunks Young's Nike report
Australian Researcher Debunks Young Report
By Anita Chan
4 July 1997
[Anita Chan is a highly respected researcher who has written on export shoe
factories in China. In this letter recently submitted to the Washington
Post, she provides a strong reply to the GoodWorks International report on
Nike, as it relates to China. As her letter amply demonstrates, Nike is not
addressing the core issues. The need for the Nike campaign continues. On
October 18, there will be an international mobilization in support of the
rights of Nike production workers. Please consider organizing a leafleting
event at a store selling Nike products in your community. To receive a Nike
action packet contact Campaign for Labor Rights at the phone or email
address listed above. The packet is free via email. For copy hard, a $3 to
$5 donation is requested.]
In former UN Ambassador Andrew Young's Nike-financed report on Nike's
operations in Asia, he lists me as having been consulted by him. Mr. Young
never contacted me. Had he done so, based on what I have learned in three
years of research on the Chinese footwear industry, I would have provided
suggestions on what he should look out for on his 3-day investigation trip to
Nike shoes in China are manufactured in factories operated by Taiwanese
and Korean subcontractors -- true, too, of Reebok, Adidas, and the other
brand-names. Many footwear factories in China require the workers, who are
almost all poor migrants from the countryside, to pay an illegal "deposit"
which supposedly will be returned at termination of employment. A survey
carried out by a Hong Kong NGO last month confirms that Wellco, a Korean Nike
subcontractor with a factory in south China, demands a "deposit"
one month's wage. Those who quit short of a year have to forfeit the
deposit. No matter how much they might dislike their working conditions,
they are trapped in a type of bonded labor. Unfortunately, Mr. Young did not
enquire about such "deposits".
During my research in China, I have discovered that collusion between
local governments and foreign investors often ensures that infringements of
the Chinese labor laws are kept secret from Beijing. Thus, in many footwear
factories enforced overtime that exceeds the legal maximum, wages that are
below the legal minimum, no days off for weeks on end, substantial fines for
trivial offenses, corporal punishment and physical abuse are common
occurrences. Nike subcontractors are guilty of some or all of these
I myself have visited a factory that makes Nike shoes where many workers are
forced to work 12-hour shifts every day. Yet Mr. Young's report never even
broaches the question of wages or fines or enforced overtime work. He did not
seek to find out if these factories violate China's own labor laws.
In many Chinese footwear factories, unknowing workers who are
from the countryside are exposed to extremely toxic glue solvents (benzene,
xylene or toluene) without protective gear or proper ventilation. Exposure
sustained periods carries a high risk of fatal illness. Some employers
simply replace the glue-shop workers before symptoms appear. Mr. Young's
report is entirely oblivious to this whole issue of worker safety.
he did not know enough to ask.
The report has one excellent recommendation: "Each worker should be
given a card suitable for a billfold or pocketbook which contains the [Nike]
Code of Conduct written in the local language." Knowledge is power and Mr.
Young knows it. Nike is enthusiastic about Mr. Young's on-the-run
"investigation" of a few days each in China, Vietnam and Indonesia. But in
Nike's response to his report, this particular recommendation is allowed to
pass. All Nike would do is more of the same: post the Code "in every major
workspace". Young did not see any Code posted in any of the twelve factories
he visited in Asia.
Nike should permit a serious and sustained investigation of its
facilities. Sending a sincere novice on a very quick jaunt of Asia has the
earmarks of a PR exercise. It appears that Mr. Young was taken for a ride.
Dr. Anita Chan,
Australian National University
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