Nike etc. Worker Exploitation Carries On

Wasn’t this issue addressed – and, to some extent anyway, solved – around the turn of the century? I thought Nike, at least, had gained whichever Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for the labor practices at its manufacturing plants in Asia. Yet the old problems with those very labor practices seem to be still with us, at least according to the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel which is carrying a report entitled Unions Criticize Nike & Co.

Make no mistake: in the dock here is not only Nike, but also Puma, Adidas (both German-based sports-shoe manufacturers), New Balance, and Fila. Indeed, Der Spiegel had published another article just last Saturday (Human Rights Activists Accuse Puma of Exploitation) in which the NGO China Labor Watch (CLW) singled out Puma in particular for the alleged exploitative work conditions in effect at the Taiway factory that makes their shoes, owned by Taiwanese but located in the southern mainland Chinese province of Dongguan. There the accusations were mainly over forced overtime work – regularly working 10- to 12-hour days when the law allows only 8 – without compensation.

Now comes another report, this time from the Play Fair 2008 workers’ rights campaign, revealing sweatshop-type misdeeds perpetrated in their Asian factories not just by Puma but the other companies as well. This was based upon a survey that organization managed to conduct among some 300 workers in sport-shoe factories in China, India, Thailand, and Indonesia. Among the abuses cited are, again, hundreds of hours per month of overtime are required, without compensation; seven-day work-weeks; starvation wages such as the equivalent of €1.25 per day discovered in certain Chinese factories; and routine exposure to hazardous chemicals. It is therefore not a uniquely Chinese problem, but still, perhaps the naïve might have expected conditions there to improve somewhat at least from sort of “window dressing” effect in connection with the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. So far, there has been nothing of the sort.

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