The Case of Nike and Human Rights
Nike Inc., the global leader in the production and marketing of sports and athletic merchandise including shoes, clothing, and equipment, has enjoyed unparalleled worldwide growth for many years. Consumers around the world recognize Nike’s brand name and logo. As a supplier to and sponsor of professional sports figures and organizations, and as a large advertiser to the general public, Nike is widely known. It was a pioneer in offshore manufacturing, establishing company-owned assembly plants and engaging third-party contractors in developing countries.
In 1990, Life magazine published a photo of a 12-year-old
Pakistani boy stitching a Nike embossed soccer ball. The photo caption noted that the job took a whole day and the child was paid US$.60 for his effort. Up until this time, the general public was neither aware of the wide use of foreign labor nor familiar with the working arrangements and treatment of laborers in developing countries. Since 1990,
Nike has become a poster child for the questionable unethical use of offshore workers in poorer regions of the world. This label has continued to plague the corporation as many global human interest and labor rights organizations have monitored and often condemned Nike for its labor practices around the world. Nike executives have been frequent targets at public events, especially at universities where students have pressed administrators and athletic directors to ban products that have been made under “sweatshop” conditions.
Indeed, at the University of Oregon, a major gift from Phil
Knight, Nike’s CEO, was held up in part because of student criticism and activism against Nike on campus.
In 2003 the company employed 86 compliance officers
(up from just 3 in 1996) to monitor its plant operations and working conditions and ensure compliance with its published corporate code of conduct. Even so, the stigma of