NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Working Conditions Of Nike Contract Workers

March 6, 2001

The athletic shoemaker Nike has been criticized for practices in its third-world factories. A new report from the nonprofit Global Alliance for Workers and Communities, of which Nike is a founding member, said it uncovered a string of problems in a survey of 4,450 workers at nine Indonesian factories.

While a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll last year found 31 percent of American women had experienced workplace harassment, the Global Alliance survey found:

  • Nearly 8 percent of workers reported receiving unwanted sexual comments, nearly 2.5 percent said they had received unwanted sexual touching on the job and 30 percent said they had been victims of verbal abuse, like swearing or yelling.
  • The Global Alliance survey also found 55 percent of the Nike contract workers were happy with company medical clinics, while 45 percent were unhappy.
  • Some 73 percent of the workers were satisfied with work relationships with their direct supervisors, and 68 percent were satisfied with factory management.
  • The only widespread complaint, raised by 90 percent, was that it was hard to get sick time off.

Otherwise, the Indonesian factories appear to be models of their kind, providing incomes that are above minimum wage to workers who would be poorer in their absence.

  • Nike, by contracting with factories employing more than a half-million workers in 55 countries, is running one of the world's most extensive international development programs.
  • By hiring many women (83 percent of workers in the Indonesian factories) Nike is giving them economic power to help raise their often-lowly social status.

Critics of Nike are weakening its brand and raising its cost of doing business, says Daniel Akst. Well-meaning customers, upset by stories of sweatshops and happy to save money, may skip the Nikes and buy off brands. Of course, these cheaper no-name sneakers were probably made under worse conditions.

Source: Daniel Akst, "Nike in Indonesia, Through a Different Lens," On the Contrary, New York Times, March 4, 2001; "Workers' Voices: An Interim Report on Workers' Needs and Aspirations in Nine Nike Contract Factories in Indonesia," February 22, 2001, Global Alliance for Workers and Communities, International Youth Foundation, 32 South Street, Suite 500, Baltimore, Md. 21202, (410) 347-1500.


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