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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
Comments: To: labnet@henry.iisg.nl

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From: Mike Rhodes <clr2@igc.apc.org
Subject: Researcher debunks Young's Nike report
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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.]

Dear Editor,

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 China.

Nike shoes in China are manufactured in factories operated by Taiwanese and Korean subcontractors -- true, too, of Reebok, Adidas, and the other major 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" equivalent to 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 practices.

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 brought in from the countryside are exposed to extremely toxic glue solvents (benzene, xylene or toluene) without protective gear or proper ventilation. Exposure for 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. Apparently, 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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