Although Nike has established itself as a leading athletic brand and even as an endearing icon of American athleticism, it was not too long ago that the company was publicly scorned for its shameful use of child labor. Since its heyday, Nike had secured its success in part by an efficient, albeit ethically-questionable, business model where its manufacturing was outsourced to underpaid, under appreciated and often underage factory workers. The money that Nike saved by utilizing this business model was often invested in topnotch advertising.
After becoming the face of aggressive mega-business abuses of power and wealth, and suffering markedly due to a dwindling public image, Nike has taken steps to alter its practices and image. In 1998, one of the first significant steps that the company took to change its business model took place with a speech given by then-CEO Phil Knight. Knight proclaimed that “the Nike product has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime and arbitrary abuse.” Knight further stated that, “I truly believe the American consumer doesn’t want to buy products made under abusive conditions.”
Ever since Knight’s 1998 speech, Nike has enacted an onslaught of redemptive measures, such as the company’s 1999 creation of the Fair Labor Association. This nonprofit group fuses business and human rights in order to maintain a fairer work-place consisting of a minimum age for labor, increased company monitoring and a 60-hour work week.
Furthermore, in 2005, Nike became the first in its specific sportswear industry to publish a comprehensive list of its contracting factories in addition to thorough reports on its factory environments, factory pay and persisting factory issues in order to maintain its still-nascent pledge to corporate social responsibility.
However, despite these amendments to its business policy, Nike is still dogged by allegations of mistreatment in its factories. In 2011, workers at Nike’s Indonesian Sukabumi plant claimed that supervisors would physically and verbally abuse them. Specifically, workers alleged that supervisors would throw shoes at them and equate them to dogs.
In response, Nike has disclosed that such abuses do indeed remain extant in a handful of its factories, thereby acknowledging that the company, despite its immense progress over the decades, still has a long road ahead of itself in order to completely abolish its history of sweatshop abuse. With increased transparency and a continued allegiance to the humane treatment of workers, Nike may eventually be able to recover its public and industrial image.
– Phoebe Pradhan