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Reliable news sources have publicly exposed the grim working conditions of people employed by contractors making Nike products in Indonesia, Haiti and Vietnam. Nike’s association with the exploitation of third world workers has fueled a worldwide boycott on their products. Positive public relations are very important to Nike, who has positioned themselves through expensive advertising campaigns as a very strong competitor in the market of athletic shoes. Those running Nike are very aware that any negative association with the company’s name will be detrimental to its success. Nike’s name has become synonymous with the successful slogan “just do it.” Their association with sweatshops is contradictory and ruinous to their self promoted image as the champions of personal achievement. Nike must maintain a positive public image in order to continue to seduce consumers into choosing them over the competitor. So, when enough people were paying attention to Nike’s unscrupulous business practices, Nike was pushed to respond. Through the boycott, concerned consumers were able to get Nike to acknowledge and address the inhumane conditions at the factories they subcontract work to. Although there has not yet been complete resolve with Nike, concerned consumers have shown their power to be heard. Through consumer action we can create positive changes personally and politically.
Many publications -- the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Sydney Morning Herald, Life Magazine -- have reported on the unjust treatment of workers making Nike products. There are reports of children sewing soccer balls for 60 cents a day, workers being beaten, sexually harassed, collapsing from exhaustion, being fired on the account of taking sick leave, working in hazardous conditions, being paid below a livable wage and the list goes on.
This kind of flagrant exploitation is illegal in America. We have created laws to protect the unempowered worker from being taken advantage of by the empowered boss. On American soil, we are forced by the law to conduct business with a certain amount of moral decency and through these enforced labor laws we have developed a social understanding and agreement on humane treatment in business. But, because American workers have restricted overtime hours and a higher living wage then those in third world countries, manufacturing goods here is more costly. So, to increase profit margins, many U.
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Acting alone, it is impossible to fight the wrongdoing of a corporate giant, but it is possible to gain strength in numbers. When people organize around a common cause, the probability of being heard and creating change is greater than that of someone acting alone. Shared sympathy can bring people together organized with a common cause who can be heard and create change. What we purchase determines what will be sold. At the grass roots level, boycotting can be a powerful tool. Just through sharing your knowledge of the unjust actions of Nike with your friends, your family, your co-workers, you can influence change. With the information you pass on, you are educating and informing someone who was otherwise ignorant to the exploitations of Nike. You will inevitably raise the consciousness of another individual who will pass the newly acquired information along.
Nike really doesn’t care if we “just do it” or not as long as we “do it” with their products. The only value we have to Nike is as consumers, and because of this our choices in what we decide to purchase has power. When we stopped buying tuna because it wasn’t dolphin safe, the tuna industry reacted and changed their ways. In corporatized America, consumer action can be as powerful as political action. People should not sit back and say they are powerless to stand up against corporate giants. Knowledge alone brings power. Spreading the word, encouraging others not to purchase Nike products is a way of making a contribution toward the cause for human rights.
It may seem futile to boycott a company that is able to pour millions of dollars into self-promotion. The idea that our personal choice not to buy a product will bring about change can seem unfathomable. Because most American corporations are manufacturing in third world countries to stay competitive, how do we know that our alternative choice to Nike is not manufacturing their products under similar, disreputable conditions? It would be exhausting to stay completely informed on the background of all the products we use. But, even though we do not have the time or the energy to seek out all of the world’s evils, we shouldn’t be indifferent to the bit of reliable knowledge we do have. In a world where we feel powerless to affect any kind of change in the greater system, we must remember that there is validity in our personal choices. Our buying decisions can be used as a way of agreeing or disagreeing with the practices of different corporate systems.
From a humanistic point of view it is wrong for Nike to participate in the exploitation of people. Boycotting their products may not make great changes in their business practices, but it is a way of feeling better about one’s self. By participating in the boycott we are making a statement of disagreement. We are making a conscious and responsible decision not to support sweatshop labor. Apathy does not have to be the default. There is significance to our choices.