Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Five hundred protesters demonstrated in front of Niketown’s 57th Street store Tuesday afternoon, lambasting the sneaker giant for allegedly not cleaning up its sweatshops overseas and for failing to protect workers’ rights.
Organized by UNITE, the event drew students, religious leaders and union workers, including representatives from United Students Against Sweatshops, the National Labor Committee and People of Faith Network. UNITE unveiled three reports on working conditions in Indonesia, China, and other locations in Asia. A survey by human rights groups of 3,500 Nike workers in Indonesia allegedly revealed low wages, abusive treatment and forced overtime, according to Jay Mazur, president of UNITE.
He blasted Nike for moving more of its subcontracted work to China, which is a “safer haven” than emerging countries as far as being able to monitor factory conditions. Nike plans to increase the amount of goods produced there to 60 percent from 40 percent, Mazur said.
In Indonesia, Nike workers are allegedly “worse off” than they were five years ago, he said. Nike has increased wages for workers in Indonesia, but it has failed to factor in the rate of inflation, Mazur added.
Asked how the rally would affect sales at Niketown, Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee, said, “Our intent isn’t to boycott Nike. This isn’t a battle to hurt Nike’s sales or take jobs out of factories. This is to put a human face on sweatshops and make a corporation accountable.”
Phil Knight, chairman and chief executive officer of Nike, was singled out for failing to live up to his company’s code of conduct, designed to improve working conditions around the world.
While Nike executives did not make any formal statements Tuesday, a Nike spokesman who was outside the store, noted the company’s anti-sweatshop initiatives in China, Vietnam and Indonesia.
The company has increased the minimum age for workers to the U.S. standard of 18-years-old, he said, maintains OSHA’s standards for air quality, increased wages by 66 percent for entry-level workers in Indonesia, disclosed locations of factories making Nike licensed collegiate apparel and posted monitored reports Tuesday written by students at the company’s request at one of its Web sites, Nikebiz.com.