“Something for the liberation of the conscience ! // Money, money, money, fine, but how Far ?” (Kasbah, R., 2016, Facebook, link)
Nike Sweatshops: Behind the Swoosh is the ultimate video for exploring the sweatshop issue. Using Nike as a case study, the film documents first hand the widespread and oppressive and exploitative labor practices in the developing world. (Source: Sweatshop Free, Behind the Swoosh, link)
Listen to Jim Keady share his story of how he spent a summer trying to live off of Nike employee’s wages in Indonesia. He advocates for ethical wages for sweatshop employees. (Source: Plus Media Solutions, 2015)
Jim Keady was a coach with St. John’s University’s 1997 national champion men’s soccer team who was given an ultimatum, either stop questioning Nike’s labor practices or resign. He has made a living from calling out Nike and the other sportswear-manufacturing giants for their alleged exploitation of labor in Third World countries. In his presentation, titled “Behind the Swoosh: Sweatshops and Social Justice,” Keady will relate the story of losing his coaching job at St. John’s University for challenging Nike’s “sweatshop labor” practices. He has since made the issue of worker exploitation his life’s mission. In the summer of 2000, he lived with factory workers in an Indonesian slum, trying to survive on their wage of 23 cents an hour. There he documented what workers’ lives are really like. “I lived in a 9×9 box, sleeping on a reed mat on a cement floor for 30 days,” said Keady, “I lost 25 pounds trying live like a Nike factory worker.” (Source: DMKRT, WordPress, 2013, link)
“Keady, a former soccer coach at St. John’s University, has been advocating for Indonesian sweatshop worker rights for the past 18 years. His interest in social justice and laborer rights began as he studied theology at St. John’s and realized that the university’s contract with Nike went against its Catholic values by supporting the continuation of the sweatshops and the workers’ poor living conditions. Keady discussed how Nike laborers earn on average $1.25 a day, barely enough to survive. According to Keady, sweatshop laborers in Indonesia have to work for nine and a half years to earn the same amount of money that NBA player LeBron James earns in a single basketball game. Both their living and working conditions are cramped and dirty, and the laborers, mostly young women and girls, face physical, verbal, and sexual abuse everyday. Excess shoe rubber and trash from the factories is gathered into piles and burned, releasing harmful toxins and carcinogens into the air” (Eshelman, 2015, link)
Never mind the potential disparity between what overseas sweatshop workers earn and what celebrities can pinch for one endorsement deal. In 1992, for example, Jordan commanded twenty million dollars to put his name, “creativity,” and “final touches” on Nike shoes. His pay amounted to more than the total wages of the women in South East Asia who actually made the shoes.3 Amidst all the glory and triumph of the Jordan brand, the image of an unglamorous, underpaid factory worker simply gets absorbed into a seemingly natural yet highly valorized system of cultural meaning. (Collins, 2001)
Inspiration / Process / Technique / Methodology
“I said as a catholic and good conscience, I cannot and will not be a walking billboard for a company that consistently chooses to maximise its profits over respecting basic human rights and human dignity” (Source: Keady, 2008, Youtube, Link)
“We were trying to answer the question, are these great jobs for those people, as many people would ask, and can you live on Nike’s basic wages in their factories” (Source: Keady, 2008, Youtube, Link).
“…Nike is a 22-billion-dollar transnational empire… they dominate the industry” – one of the top 50 brands in the world, selling in more than 160 countries, employing over 1,117,000 workers in 912 factories in 47 countries; “…they exercise imperialist values to maximise their profits…” (Source: Keady, 2013, np, link)
“…the organising strategy I’ve employed over the years is fairly straightforward: let’s look at one industry leader – Nike – in one strategic country – Indonesia – and win. And winning would mean we would get workers tri-party collective bargaining agreements. Union contracts. Nike signs it. The factory signs it. The union signs it. They’re all legally on the hook for what’s in the deal, and part of the deal would be a living wage.” (Source: Keady, J. 2013, np, link)
Keady made it clear that there is still a long way to go, but mentioned that young people, especially college students, have more power than they think that they could be using to affect change. Keady said, “Only one percent of the world gets access to a college education. That puts you in the global elite … I would argue that you have a moral responsibility to use this great education to take up that Jesuit call of being men and women for others and make an absolute difference with your lives and leave the world a much better place than you found it.” (Source: Eshelman, 2015, np, link)
“…and if we can give [student audiences] that spark, even if it’s one or two, on that day, that’s gonna multiply, and eventually, we’ll reach that critical mass, and we’ll have a great harvest, and that harvest will be truth, and justice, and fairness for all people. Something’s wrong here, and we can fix it. It’s a necessity.” (Source: Keady, J., 2011, @ 19’30’’, link)
Keady spent a month in an Indonesian factory workers’ slum living on $1.25 a day. Along with his personal accounts of lived solidarity, Keady’s presentation includes the latest information on Nike’s labor and environmental practices that EFJ-sponsored teams researched in Indonesia from 2000 to the present. Using the perspective of factory workers as a starting point, they include solid analysis, as well as outlining proactive steps towards making the economic, social and environmental conditions for workers more fair and just. (Source: Riley, 2008, link)
In July 2000 I lived with Nike factory workers in Indonesia. I lived in conditions they lived in and on the wages they paid – $1.25 a day. I lost 25lbs in a month in a rat-infested slum in Tangerang, Indonesia, home to tens of thousands of the women and men who produce the Nike sneakers adored by so many athletes and consumers. // Following that initial immersion in 2000, I conducted field research in 2001, 2002, 2008 and 2009; I took part in demonstrations on three continents; I met with an Indonesian President (Wahid) and members of the U.S. Congress; I led workshops and listening sessions with Nike workers from a dozen factories in Bekasi, Bogor, Bandung, Balaraja, Tangerang, and Jakarta; I lobbied Nike shareholders and was escorted by police from at least one shareholder meeting; I produced a short documentary, “Behind the Swoosh” and am currently producing a feature documentary and writing a book, both under the title, SWEAT; I lectured at more than 400 schools in 39 states and in three different countries; and I met with representatives from Nike at all levels, including Nike founder and chairman, Phil Knight. (Source: Keady, J., 2011, link)
Discussion / Responses
“Wow!! What a presentation. I knew and heard that it was good, but had no idea the impact it would have on myself and hopefully the others that were present. Besides their incredible message, I was so impressed with Jim. My 10th grade son was there and I was so happy for him to see such a role model. There was Jim, this handsome, athletic, well spoken, intelligent, young man that made a stand for what he believed in, The rights and dignity of others. I personally can’t think of anyone else that my son has met that is anything like that. What an opportunity for him. Thank you again for all of your help.” (Source: Byrd, no date, np, link)
“Along with the thousands of other activists who feel just as strongly about this topic as myself, we wonder why? Why do you treat the young and innocent people working in your factories so poorly? Why do you give them such low wages, long hours and violate their labour rights?” (Source: Flannery, 2016, np, link)
“This goes lower. There is a lack of human rights. Workers rights could mean anything. These people are technically slaves.” (Source: Bomb_Anecdote, 7 Oct 2015, np, link)
“Chemicals in Nike factories cause liver , kidney and brain damage. 77% of workers suffer respiratory problems. #Nike #terrrible #Conditions.” (Source: @AwarenessNike, 23 Apr 2015, link).
“Reports from a Nike factory in Indonesia indicate that 15 women were beat for ‘poor sewing’. 2 were hospitalized #Sweatshops #Nike” (Source; @AwarenessNike, 23 Apr 2015, link)
“Workers at a Nike shoe factory in Indonesia say the factory paid military personnel to intimidate them into working for less than the minimum wage” (Source; @Bryant_Avatara, 14 Jan 2016, link).
“Just because it’s not happening here, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.” (Source: Anya Khalid, 2016, np, link)
“I’m just trying to figure out why they’re so expensive when they’re so cheap to make…” (Source; Ryan L, 2016, np, link)
“He said that one day, he’d like to be able to buy a pair of Nike sneakers that he helps make,” the activist recalled. “After 19 years of factory work, he wanted to be able to bring home the product so he could show his daughter what Daddy does. That just floored me.” (Glionna, 2010, np, link)
“Phil Knight: “Ah we don’t give a fuck about the people we are killing. Fuck em… I’m eating lunch with a friend here YOU RUDE FUCKING BASTARD!!” I just don’t understand how companies can get away with shit like that. It just shows how corrupt and fucked this county is. Luckily we see the pretty side of corruption so our society doesn’t give a shit. If shit was running down the street in America things would change real quick.” (Source: P12oof, 7 Oct 2015, np, link)
“I was surprised by what was going on, I mean every once in a while you catch wind of sweatshops hear and there but I have never seen such an extensive presentation on the subject. It’s quite sad to see people working so hard but for so little. I am all for good business practices and companies pushing to do better because it creates a competitive market place, but not at the expense of exploiting other countries, and their people. I would honestly like to see another company, or an entrepeneur start a company similar to Nike but ensuring that all workers have better rights. I know it may sound impossible or too ambitious but it’s just a thought. Maybe someone should dethrown Nike. I mentioned sweatshops to my father the other night and the first thing he said was well how much money would those people be making if Nike wasn’t there. I was like dad please spare me the lesser of two evils cliche. Honestly if Nike is there they should be treating people fairly end of story.” (Source: Crump, 14 Feb 2009, np, link)
“I don’t know how we break out of a cycle that produces this type of scenario. Our set of viable choices (e.g. buy this, buy that) is formed by what we see on a daily basis (e.g. commercials, norms). The trick is we have to see what is a want, what is a need, and what effect choosing between the two has on every person in the chain of production. // It’s a values shift on the part of the consumer as well as the producer (e.g. Phil Knight), and I’m as guilty as anyone else of being a party to the inhumanity.” (Source: Lottabirdies, 7 Oct 2015, np, link)
“…Nike workers make so little money that they joke (tragically) about having to “export” their children back to home villages when they are born. You could have a mother and a father both working producing Nike products and because their wage is a poverty wage, they have to send their kids to live with family and if they are lucky they see their babies a few times a year.
I’m assuming you watched the short film and saw the scrap shoe rubber burning. I knew nothing about that issue until I was there. I literally stumbled upon it. Here is a more detailed expose I did on that issue. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-keady/the-dumping-and-burning-o_b_643763.html
I am always amazed at the spirit of the workers. Despite what they deal with, they are so generous to me and they have such courage in wanting to fight for justice.
Peace, JWK” (Source: JimKeady, 8 Oct 2015, np, link)
“If Nike’s CEO had illegally shot and killed a lion, they would face a huge backlash and their sales would suffer greatly. He’d probably get death threats and the company would go on record condemning his deplorable behavior. But as it is, it’s just human exploitation in its basest form: slow, painful and degrading. Nothing to get upset over.” (Source: caffeine_buzz, 7 Oct 2015, np, link)
“Keady acknowledged that Nike is far from the only company using sweatshops today. There are very few alternatives to large sportswear companies like Nike, but Keady mentioned some small ways student athletes and other consumers can make a stand against these companies, such as covering or removing logos on their clothing.” (Source: Eshelman, 2015, np, link)
“Here’s a concept: why not just not buy Nike if you don’t support them? Buying the shoe and covering the swoosh is like writing “save the environment” on the side of your Hummer.” (Source; mahnkenville, 2015, link).
Outside, I asked several shoppers toting the Nike Town shopping bag what the swoosh meant to them. Was anybody as exhausted from the labor of signification as I? Some people responded that it’s “cool,” it’s a sporty, trendy brand. Most others insisted it meant nothing to them. Yet everyone I spoke with was aware of the accusations regarding Nike’s labor practices. (Source: Collins, 2001)
“Sweatshops are natural. Firms look to outsource labour to the cheapest sources, and as standards of living rises, the labour is then outsourced to even cheaper labour. // You know, in China people are complaining now of jobs being outsourced to Bangladesh. In 10-20 years, you will hear lots of stories of jobs being outsourced to Africa, mark my words. // If you don’t believe that sweatshops eventually lifts people out of poverty, then read this: http://www.businessinsider.com/china-overtakes-us-as-worlds-largest-economy-2014-10. // China is now larger than the USA economically. And to think, in the 70’s, China was considered a third world country . . . In a relatively short period of time hundreds of millions, were lifted out of poverty, one part due to sweatshops.” (Source: Oasis S., 2015, np, link)
“There is nothing “natural” about sweat shops, regardless of what some media source says. People are still being mistreated, looked at as property and being made to work like domesticated animals. It’s not “natural” for people to be treated in such an evil and degrading manner.” (Source: Arie Jones, 2015, np, link)
“Andy Le, sweatshops are not “natural.” Breathing is natural. Sweatshops are the result of a predominant economic construct, meaning, their reality is created by humans, they are not part of the natural order. Just because something is predominant in modern human history does not mean that it is inevitable. We know that the horrors that workers face in sweatshop conditions in every industrializing period are just that – horrible. To change this reality and to have factories that produce shoes, clothes, electronics, etc. AND pay workers fairly and respect their rights is absolutely possible. There is no reason for sweatshop conditions to exist in 2015. We know how to eliminate said conditions and have companies make a fair return on their investment. … And we CAN do things differently – WHY? Because what is being done now is not “natural.” (i.e. we have control over it). Peace, Jim Keady” (Jim Keady, 2015, np, link)
“+clayton pitkin … Pretty difficult to be sufficient if you barely make enough to live much less buy the same nike products that they make which they obviously dont make enough money to buy themselves though they make it.” (Source: B Charron, 2015, np, link)
“+Oasis S. are you really that fucking stupid? Why don’t you go work at a sweatshop, leave your stupid comfortable home in america and live in a shack there dumb ass. Then you list BUSINESS INSIDER as a source? of course they are you going to tell you sweatshops are good! so you can shut your mouth about it and keep buying their stuff so they can make more money!” (Source: yazmin jazzy, 2016, np, link)
“Maybe he’s apathetic. Maybe he just doesn’t give a shit. Honestly, when you really try to figure out how you’d solve it, you can’t blame someone for pushing the thought out of their head. That’s the natural human solution to cognitive dissonance. If we have a problem we can’t solve, it’s easier to try and find some middling silver lining and move on. Even this video doesn’t offer a solution. Few critics of sweatshops ever manage to offer policies beyond deliberately vague and often short-sighted ideals meant more to self-aggrandize themselves with a sympathetic but ultimately uncaring domestic audience. If you want to get really cynical, it’s arguable that films like these are more about building the filmmaker’s careers than actually helping people. I’m not sure I buy that argument myself, but where did these guys go after that month? Did they come home to a comparatively cushy journalism gig or something, or are they still there trying to improve conditions?” (Source; Iankist, 7 Oct 2015, np, link).
“What is the point of this video? Okay people are poor in third world countries; this guy didn’t know that? Unfortunately these living and work conditions are not unusual in many parts of the world whether they work for Nike or not. This video tries to make it seem like Nike puts these people up in that type of housing; like Nike is somehow responsible for their poor life conditions. Towards the end of the video you notice something interesting that explains a lot. This guy tries talking about America being about democracy and equal rights etc. What he fails to understand is that these poor people are not deprived of any rights or being treated unequally. Rights and equality don’t mean you have the right to have someone else give you food or money, but you do have the right to seek out those wants or needs without interference. Hence the right to “life, liberty and the PURSUIT of happiness.” That’s what freedom is about, determining your own fate; and self-reliance.” (Source: Michael Zaman, 2016, np, link)
“You’re thinking about it wrong. // Say you are a worker in a third world country. Nike decides to open a factory near you. Well lets see what you have been doing. Youve been farming for yourself to survive for the past 10 years. You were making the equivalent of $1 an hour in your country. Big ol’ Nike here says they will pay you $3 an hour. // You take the job. // Yeah, conditions are harsh. Hours are rough. But, from your point of view it is worth it. You could always just quit and do what you did before. But you stick with it because it is worth it. // 3 years later, Adidas opens a factory looking for cheap labor. They said they will pay $3.50 an hour. // Your coworkers start moving over there! Nike is losing its workers, so they offer to match at $3.50 an hour, AND install a AC unit in the building. // Adidas and Nike raises wages against each other for couple of years. Now they are both offering $5.50 an hour. It took a while, but it got there. // BAM. // USA decides that sweatshops are too harsh. Requires companies to install all this shit in your country. // Nike and Adidas dont want to pay that shit. So what do they do? The move. They pack up, they go to the third world country next door where they can pay $3 an hour again. // Now you, the worker, are without work. You’re back to farming to survive making $1 an hour. // Sweatshops aren’t bad. They are the stepping stones that a third world country needs to develop.” (Source: Azntigerlion, 7 Oct 2015, np, link)
“I was just wondering if there was an alternative to Nike where the quality of the product was just as good, and styles just as hip, with the only difference between the two companies being the working conditions that the workers have to put up with which company would you choose to support ?” (Source: Crump, 14 Feb 2009, np, link)
Outcomes / Impacts
“How can we help?” (Source: MTVrocker, 5 years ago, np, link)
“I am showing this video to all my 8th grade social studies students. Magnificient!!!!” (Source: Jill Hintsala, 6years ago, np, link)
“Mr. Keady, My Middle School students were moved to action after I showed them your Behind the Swoosh documentary. Your work is impacting young minds for Catholic Social Justice! Keep up the good work!” (Betz Olay, 2015, link).
“NOOSA District State High School Year 9 student Hannah Flannery was so upset to hear about the ill treatment of workers in Nike factories in Indonesia and Vietnam, that she took action and wrote a letter to Nike’s CEO Mark Parker. The Year 9 humanities students learnt about globalisation this term and as a part of their assessment they were to undertake research into a multinational corporation, outlining the impact it has on the social, economic and environmental welfare of the world…. She wrote her letter after viewing the documentary ‘Behind the Swoosh’, in which the American documentary-maker and his friend tried to live off the wages Nike pays it workers in Indonesia…. Hannah has vowed to no longer purchase Nike products until fair and safe practices are implemented for their workers.” (Source: Unknown author, 2016, September 21st 2016, link).
“Jim Keady will give the talk, ‘Beyond the Swoosh: Sweatshops and Social Justice,’ on Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m. in the Forum of the Elaine Langone Center at Bucknell University. The talk, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by the Social Justice Residential College at Bucknell. Co-sponsors include the University Lectureship Committee, the Office of the Dean of Students and the Office of Service Learning as well as the departments of psychology, economics, management, geography, international relations, religion, women’s and gender studies, and political science”. (Source: Kopchik, 2009, np, link).
“Nike’s recent decision to no longer allow the WRC access to its factories and their noncompliance with Georgetown’s Code of Conduct’s policy on living wages has raised some questions. A presentation on campus in November and a subsequent small protest by a group of athletes has sparked a renewed conversation on Nike’s labor violations // Twenty-seven Georgetown students held a sit-in for 85 hours in the office of President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J. The Georgetown Solidarity Committee led the protest, demanding full disclosure of factory locations of companies producing Georgetown apparel. The agreement between the protesters and the Georgetown adminisation led to the establishment of Licensing Oversight Committee in Fall 2000, and the creation of the Code of Conduct for Georgetown University Licensees. The establishment of new parameters in Georgetown’s relationships with its licensees, including Nike, was concurrent with the formation of a new national infrasucture for labor rights monitoring. “There was actually a White House group that was formed to y to address the sweatshop issue. Out of that came a group called the Fair Labor Association , and that is comprised of the brands and universities, no students,” said Kline. According to Kline, the Worker Rights Consortium was created in response as an alternative to the FLA, out of a concern that the FLA’s brand members would affects its neuality. “Georgetown is one of the universities that is only a member of the WRC. There are universities that are members of both. So WRC was pretty much a student creation. And it’s just the students and universities; there are no corporate members in WRC,” explained Kline.”My understanding is that FLA is more integrated with Nike, such as in terms of funding and governance whereas the WRC is more independent,” Justice and Peace Studies Professor Eli McCarthy said. The most recent issues at hand in Nike’s relationship with Georgetown are Nike’s refusal to allow the WRC enance to its factories in fall 2015 and its refusal to commit to a living wage for all its factory employees.” (Cobb, C. & Nerkar, S., 29 September 2016, np, link).
“There was an athlete at my presentation at Georgetown,” Keady told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “She went home and educated her teammates about what was going on, she showed them my short film. And they took the action they took on Tuesday morning. They taped over their Nike swooshes.” (Keady, 2015, Link).
“A few student athletes taped-over the Nike swoosh on their athletic apparel following the presentation. According to McCarthy, the response to this single event demonstrates the power that student athletes have in the overall dialogue.”When student-athletes simply covered their swooshes, some coaches and others pushed back. This is an indication of the potential power student action could have. I think student actions could play an even bigger, more ansformative role in ensuring more just agreements for workers,” wrote McCarthy.” (Cobb, C. & Nerkar, S., 29 September 2016, np, link).
“We will not allow our universities to profit from the sweat of inhumane conditions and the suffering of worker mistreatment.” (Cobb, C. & Nerkar, S., 29 September 2016, np, link).
“Well we had about 150 people there and surprisingly they stayed for the duration of the presentation. Many of them seemed motivated to take action, so we are trying to set up some reflection sessions to talk about the issue further. Jim did an awesome job and was very engaging! They got some local press coverage. Thanks.” (Source; Haren, np, Link).
“Workers still have nothing in vietnam … Our lives are very difficult” (Shin in Hengeveld, 2016, link).
Drawing on a repertoire of direct action campaigns, culture jamming, and publicity stunts, Nike’s labour critics have successfully turned the logic of promotionalism back onto Nike and in the process have generated media and public attention to the issue of sweatshops in order to debunk the preferred image of itself that Nike has attempted to create through its advertising and philanthropic initiatives. (Greenberg and Knight, 2004).
A boycott of Nike has been debated by activists over the years. But worker unions in Southeast Asia, where most of Nike apparel is made, have not until recently been in favor of a boycott — for fear of losing work. (Corporate Crime Reporter, 2015, Link)
“I don’t know what this is gonna do, because we’re gonna go home, we’re gonna say, like, this is not enough money and no one is gonna do a damn thing different.” (Kretzu, 2011, Link).
“What I like about this is that the doc came out in 2011 and literally had zero impact on Nike sales in the years that followed. In fact, it has been well known since the 1970’s that Nike operates sweatshops overseas. Still no one cares.
The problem with this is much worse than mere consumer indifference. Corporations are learning that negative press about workers rights overseas doesn’t really affect sales, and therefore they can press ahead and actively and openly oppose and resist worker’s rights movements in other countries without worrying about negative press here. It is literally impossible to make people care about this. Nike’s 40 year history proves it.” (Source: zbufferz, np link).
“The best way to stop this is to donate directly to poverty relief and changing laws about working conditions. Boycotting products is not very useful. The labor will just be used for some other product or more will be spent hiding how it is used resulting in even worse conditions.” (Source: lonjerpc, np, link)
“Keady’s lone-hand activism over more than a decade against worker exploitation by Indonesian Nike supplier companies culminated in a ground-breaking agreement for PT Nikomas Gemilang to repay 4437 production workers Rp8.1 billion ($869,100) for almost 600,000 hours of forced, unpaid overtime.” (Alford, 2012, np, link).
“Human rights activists acknowledge that increased monitoring efforts at least deal with some of the worst problems, like locked factory doors and unsafe chemicals, but issues still remain.” (Source; Nisen, 2013, today, Link).
“Members of Congress have invited Keady and his colleagues to brief the lawmakers a about Nike’s operations in Indonesia.” (Riley, 2008, np, link).
“In round 1, we had Nike on the ropes in the late 90s and we were impacting their sales. They fought back in round 2 with a vengeance and were able to shift the focus on the public debate from wages and union contracts to “monitoring” (which they controlled, since they control access to all the factories. We are now in round 3 and the outcome has yet to be determined. Peace, JWK” (Source: JimKeady, np, link).
“Actually, I produced/directed the doc in 2001. I did the initial project in 2000 and have been active on the issue ever since. We have won some major victories for workers in that time, but there is a mountain of work to be done to have true justice for workers. People do care, I have met thousands of them along my journey. But you are right that we have not yet reached a tipping point that will truly drive market forces and impact real and lasting change. We will get there. As MLK said, the moral arc of the universe is long, but it always bends towards justice. Peace, JWK” (Source: JimKeady, np link).
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Charron, B (2015) ‘comment’ on ‘Nike Sweatshops: Behind the Swoosh’ (posted by TeamSweat, 28/07/2011), YouTube, accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5uYCWVfuPQ.
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