STUDY FINDS ABUSE IN NIKE FACTORIES
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — A study released Thursday of nine Nike apparel and footwear contractors in Indonesia cited evidence of verbal, physical and sexual harassment against workers in the facilities.
The survey by the Global Alliance for Workers and Communities, which Nike helped to found in 1999, is part of the organization’s effort to improve the lives of factory workers in developing countries on and off the job. The alliance’s focus is intended to augment monitoring of factory conditions by Nike and its other corporate member, Gap Inc.
At a press conference, Maria Eitel, Nike’s vice president and senior adviser for corporate responsibility, called the study’s findings “very disturbing.” She said Nike officials now plan to conduct manager training at the factories to address the issues uncovered. “A factory could ignore us on this, but they’ll lose our business,” Eitel said.
The Indonesia study involved private interviews, surveys and focus groups with 4,450 workers conducted by sociologists associated with the Atma Jaya Catholic University in Jakarta. It also turned up complaints of various forms of harassment of workers by line supervisors or managers.
“Workers reported that harsh words or verbal abuse are common in their factory environment and considered a normal part of these relationships,” according to the study, pegging the frequency of verbal abuse being observed at 56.8 percent. Incidences of physical abuse were less frequent, with incidences of superiors throwing objects, hitting, pushing and shoving pegged at almost 14 percent.
There were also two reports of workers being asked for sexual favors by superiors during recruitment or in exchange for a promotion. About 26 percent of workers said they observed co-workers being subjected to sexual comments and 16 percent observed co-workers being sexually touched.
Far fewer workers actually reported being victims of sexual comments (8 percent) or touching (2 percent). The difference in proportion to those reporting the behavior compared to observers was attributed in the report to the Muslim culture’s sense of shame toward such actions. Some workers, particularly those involved in sewing, complained about sick-leave policies.
“If the workers collapse, they are asked to take rest at the factory and asked to continue working when they wake up,” the study said.
In addition to the two corporate members of the alliance, other members include the World Bank, the International Youth Foundation and the U.K.-based Institute of Social and Ethical Accountability.
The Indonesia study follows one released last fall involving seven Nike contract factories in Vietnam. A similar survey of eight Gap contractors in Indonesia is due this spring. Surveys of Gap contractors in India and factories producing for Nike in China are expected to follow.
Nike, with 750 contractors in 55 countries, is the frequent target of human rights groups for dealing with factories that allegedly have poor working conditions.
Eitel defended Nike’s work to combat worker abuses, citing the firm’s monitoring efforts, strict enforcement of its code of conduct, dismissal of contractors that abuse the code and their involvement in the Global Alliance.
Although Nike has given the alliance $7.7 million toward its five-year budget of $14 million, Eitel said the two-year-old organization isn’t beholden to Nike.
“If we had Global Alliance in our back pocket, they wouldn’t be coming here with” these results, Eitel said. “We are really getting to the core issues here and I wish other companies would do the same.”
Rick Little, president of the IYF, said the alliance’s work in Indonesia and other countries underscores systemic problems facing workers in the global supply chain of consumer products. The implications of the Indonesia study “far exceed Nike,” Little said.