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Nike to take US colleges on tour of Asian factories after criticism of its labor practices

Nike to take US colleges on tour of Asian factories after criticism of its labor practices

Mark Hollis has heard allegations about Nike Inc. operating sweatshops overseas.
The Michigan State senior associate athletic director believes Nike when it says all of its workers are treated well, but he eagerly accepted the company's offer to tour some of its Asian factories.
"It's easy to be told one thing, but it's a great opportunity to go see for yourself," said Hollis, who was to travel Thursday to Vietnam. "Nike is in business to make money, but they take allegations and perceptions seriously."
Michigan State, Georgetown, California _ a few of the many schools with sponsorship agreements with Nike _ and the America East Conference are expected to have representatives joining Nike officials for an upcoming tour of facilities in Vietnam and China.
Kit Morris, Nike's director of college sports marketing, said it is the fourth such trip in five years.
"We've found that athletic administrators gain a better understanding of the cultural and economic conditions with this firsthand view of our overseas operations," Morris said in a telephone interview from Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. "Most of our products, including collegiate-licensed apparel, are made by subcontracted workers overseas and that issue has drawn some attention at colleges over the last decade.
"We want to be as transparent as possible during these visits, allowing our guests from the different colleges to ask any factory worker or government official any question they want."
Global Exchange, a humanitarian, not-for-profit organization based in San Francisco, hopes Hollis and the other college administrators ask tough questions during its tour paid for by the world's largest athletic shoe and clothing company.
"Are the workers paid a living wage that allows them to live in their country's middle class?" said Jason Mark, who is on Global Exchange's board of directors. "Are the workers allowed to collectively bargain for their interests with an independent trade union?"
"Unfortunately, repeated investigations into Nike's operations overseas has given us `No' answers to both of those questions."
After hearing these kind of criticisms about its labor practices abroad for years, Nike disclosed the names and locations of 700-plus factories that make its shoes, apparel and other products in 2005.
Industry experts said the disclosure, included as part of the company's corporate responsibility report, made the sneaker giant the first major apparel manufacturer to voluntarily disclose its entire supply chain.
In its 108-page corporate responsibility report, Nike audited nearly 600 factories over a two-year span and found abuses it previously has identified such as restricting access to toilets and drinking water during the work day. The monitors also found that in more than half the South Asian factories, and in over 25 percent of factories overall, the normal course of business led to work hours more than 60 hours per week.
"We're always looking to make progress for our workers around the world because we have a saying around here, `There is no finish line,'" Morris said. "Doing the right thing is good business."
Last month, Nike said its earnings were up 8 percent in the second quarter to $325.6 million (euro250.8 million) and that sales increased 10 percent to $3.82 billion (euro2.94 billion) for the quarter that ended Nov. 30.
While Global Exchange is frustrated with Nike over core issues related to pay and unions, Mark said the company has made improvements.
"Nike has made some important changes over the last decade in terms of looking out for the health and safety of its workers," he said. "But I hope that the administrators going on the trip ask the hard questions that need to be asked, and that they help make progress for living wages and the right to form unions for the workers overseas."
Michigan State is a member of both the Fair Labor Association and the Worker Rights Consortium, making Hollis feel a greater sense of responsibility to make the 11-day trip productive.
"We have a responsibility and expectation to listen and respond to issues facing a global community," he said. "We're fortunate Nike is giving us this opportunity to explore their factories so that we can go beyond the documents that tell us where the goods are coming from overseas."


Updated : 2021-10-26 14:45 GMT+08:00