I must confess I thought the whole sweat shop thing had been long since eradicated. But not so — not in Jakarta any way. A recent story gives us some of the disquieting details of the treatment workers receive on a daily basis while making 50 cents an hour for a shoe company that is reportedly worth $49 billion and spends $3.2 billion in sports endorsements alone:
They’re one of the world’s top sports clothing brands, but for years Nike have been dogged by allegations of sweatshops and child labor.
Now workers making Nike’s Converse shoes at a factory in Indonesia say they are being physically and mentally abused.
Workers at the Sukabumi plant, about 60 miles from Jakarta, say supervisors frequently throw shoes at them, slap them in the face, kick them and call them dogs and pigs. . . .
At the PT Amara Footwear factory located just outside Jakarta, where another Taiwanese contractor makes Converse shoes, a supervisor ordered six female workers to stand in the blazing sun after they failed to meet their target of completing 60 dozen pairs of shoes on time. “They were crying and allowed to continue their job only after two hours under the sun,” said Ujang Suhendi, 47, a worker at a warehouse in the factory.
The deeply unsettling thing about the story is not so much the description of the treatment of those workers — though that is certainly enough to disturb the sleep of any sensitive person. But what about the fact that none of the athletes who endorse Nike shoes for millions of dollars has spoken out about the abuses? One might argue that they don’t know, but ignorance is not an excuse when you are getting the kind of money these people are getting to endorse a pair of shoes that Moms in the ghetto have to shell out $200.00 for so their sons or daughters can keep up with the neighbor kids.
I note such names as Hope Solo, goal keeper for the American soccer team, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Michael Jordan, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Michelle Wee — you know, the big names in sports. None of these people has said a word and Jordan, for one, has been with Nike since before Noah filled his ark with all those noisy, smelly animals. It does make one wonder why we adulate these people — because they excel at a sport, I suppose; certainly not because they have exemplary character. In fact, as I have noted in previous blogs, we don’t admire people for the “content of their character,” as Martin Luther King put it, we admire them because they can shoot a basketball, hit a golf ball, kick a soccer ball, or win a tennis tournament. Hardly reason to admire anyone. It suggests that we are indeed a shallow people.
One might argue that we cannot expect athletes to have a social conscience, that their job is to perform at a high level in their sport: they have no responsibility to their fans to set an example. Indeed, this is a hot topic among the talking heads on such TV networks as ESPN. But it does seem that when a person agrees to take millions of dollars — and we are talking about millions of dollars — for endorsing a product these people would first make sure the company is one they would want their names associated with. And Nike does not pass muster on that score. They have been running sweat shops for decades to make the outlandishly expensive shoes that kids simply must have. And they treat their workers like dirt. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t wear a pair of Nikes if you paid me.