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NIKE Drops Charity Donation After Sweatshop Criticism

by Mark Bourrie

Sweatshop Index

Nike withdraws $50,000 donation
(IPS) OTTAWA -- The ongoing union campaign against the sporting goods giant Nike against its labor practices in Third World factories moved to Canada last month, and, after a spat with members of the Ottawa City Council, Nike withdrew a $50,000 donation to build a new basketball court in a poor area of the Canadian capital.

Nike and the Toronto Raptors National Basketball Association team are funding the construction of a string the padded rubber basketball court floors in cities across eastern Canada.

A recreation center in a disadvantaged area of Ottawa was slated to get one of these new floors until some Ottawa council members accused Nike of using child labor and paying low wages in its south Asian factories.

The councillors decided not to approve the deal with Nike and the Raptors until it learned more about the way Nike's factories treat their workers. When councillors invited labor groups and Nike officials to a meeting to talk about conditions in Nike factories, the company withdrew its offer to pay for the basketball court floor.

Nike would install a special basketball court in a Boys and Girls Club in another part of Ottawa
The Ottawa-Nike controversy was the first time the company had withdrawn a sponsorship offer because of questions about Nike's labor practices, said Nike's spokesman Doug Stamm.

Stamm, the company's global director of community affairs, said his company wasn't given a fair chance to defend its operations in the Third World before some council members went public with criticism of Nike. But he said Nike would install a special basketball court in a Boys and Girls Club in another part of Ottawa.

Stamm defended his company's record in the developing world, saying Nike forbids its suppliers to use child labor. Nike factories in Vietnam and Indonesia pay more than minimum wage and much more than the national averages in those countries, he said.

The company has issued guidelines to all of its factories to allow collective bargaining, treat workers with dignity and pay them at least the local minimum wage. "Each factory worker is given a pocket card that says Nike prohibits child labor and pays minimum wages. It caps the hours of work and guarantees the right to collective bargaining," Stamm said.

Nike and its contracting companies employ more than 500,000 people in southern Asia and Stamm insisted "these factories are not sweatshops. These are good working places for the workers."

Stamm blamed the city council for Nike's decision to withdraw its offer, saying that a public meeting wasn't the place to discuss the company's foreign labor practices. "In this setting, the complexity of this issue cannot be heard," he said.

Officials of the Canadian Labor Congress, Canada's largest union organization, agreed that Nike was not the worst labor law violator in the developing world. Michael Desautels, an executive of the CLC, said Nike is such a huge employer that it leads U.S. industries in setting employment standards for Third World operations.

"I know that Nike does not condone these actions (such as sweatshop wages and child labor), but their codes of conduct do not go far enough to protect the workers in their Asian factories," Desautel said.

Some disgruntled members of council accused Nike of punishing the city for focusing attention on Nike's reputation.

"Have we been bad?" asked councilman Richard Cannings, who last month threw away a new pair of Nike shoes to protest the company's use of child workers. "Are they trying to punish us? They came all this way from (Nike headquarters in Portland, Oregon) to take it away from us because we had the temerity to criticize."

Councilwoman Diane Deans said she wouldn't apologize for criticizing Nike, even if the city lost the donation. "I want to make sure that I'm not voting for something that contributes to exploitation. I don't want to help ease the conscience of a corporation."

The children who use the recreation center that lost the special basketball floor said Nike and the city council scored political points at their expense.

"We're mad at Nike for taking the floor back from us," said Eric Monast, 14, "and we're mad at the city for raising the issue. Now we're stuck with using a slippery, uneven cement floor to play basketball...what did we do wrong?"

"Nike is not the victim here. The Third World kids are victims, and the kids here are victims"
Some critics of Nike's foreign operation lauded Ottawa council's decision to question Nike about its labor practices, even if it lost the donation.

"It's good to be able to say to small kids in China that the people of Ottawa stood up for you. We did not take the money that should have gone to you," said Carl Hetu, spokesman for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

"Nike is not the victim here. The Third World kids are victims, and the kids here are victims. They have been given false hopes, the way Nike gives false hopes to workers in their factories," Hetu declared.

"The less public debate there is on Third World issues, the better it is for Nike. You must take time to look at the origin of donations. Why did Nike build its factories in Indonesia and Vietnam instead of the Unites States and Canada? They went to Indonesia and Vietnam to profit from repressive regimes, and that's wrong," Hetu said.

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Albion Monitor April 22, 1998 (

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