Behind the Swoosh

As I continue to create continuity in this blog around an idea, theme or purpose I cannot help but focus on human rights and social justice. A passion for human rights and social justice has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. In kindergarten I did a presentation to my class on the protection of sea turtles on the coast of South Carolina. I realize that sea turtles are not humans, but the point is, I was acutely aware of social issues and injustices even at a young age.

As a soccer player, Nike is the premier supplier of all things soccer. From uniforms to practice gear to balls and everything else, Nike is the ultimate standard in style and function. The best teams and players are sponsored by Nike in just about every sport, especially soccer. Mia Hamm, UNC, Tiger Woods, the Yankees, the Braves, Georgia Bulldogs, Clemson, Lance Armstrong, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Abby Wombach, Roger Federer, John McEnroe, Michael Johnson, Allyson Felix, Ludacris, Kanye all have or have had Nike sponsorships. For a complete list check out Wikipedia.

Nike’s pervasiveness into the sports world is a large part of their success. Nike is synonymous with greatness and elite athleticism. They produce some of the most inspiring commercials and their simplicity in marketing, Just Do It, is brilliant. However, another reason for their success is exploitation.

The average pair of Nike shoes retails for over $100. The workers who make the shoes live on about $1.25 a day. Some will argue that this wage is much better than any other job they could find elsewhere. That the workers are “happy” and “thankful” for their job. I once thought this way. I was infuriated when, in my opinion, ignorant Americans argued that we should stop shipping “American” jobs overseas, that a global economy hurt us, that we should heavily tax and tariff all imported goods. I would wane profusely about the fallacies in these statements, about the overall expansion of our economy, the lower prices of goods and the economic benefits of free trade. All of this convinced me that of course, these workers must be happy. After all, in their economy $1.25 is like $40,000 in America, right? Wrong.

In Indonesia, in a workers slum outside of Jakarta, $1.25 will get you rice and beans for 1, some peanuts and a little dish soap. If you get sick and have to get asprin and juice, forget eating for the day. What about if you have kids? Well, I honestly don’t know. They certainly aren’t going to school. They will probably spend their days foraging in trash heaps to find scraps to sell to buy a little food, if they are lucky. Raw sewage lines the streets because this is a slum after all and with $1.25 a day, there is not enough money to pay for sewer drainage or trash pick up. Your slum is actually where the trash pickup goes to dump other people’s trash.

So what does all this mean for me, for you? For me, it means I will not buy Nike. I will not tacitly support any organization that abuses their workers. This also means I do not buy Nestle or any of its subsidiaries (to read more about Nestle’s child abuses click here or here). I use the Better World Shopper App to help me make informed decisions on the products I buy. I do not shop at Wal-Mart for the same reasons I do not buy Nestle or Nike, their workers around the world are not treated with basic human rights and the executives have willfully refused to change the situation. Many people have told me that they alone cannot make a difference. 1 pair of shoes not bought means nothing in the face of company worth 10.7 billion dollars, according to Forbes. However, to these people I would say that not doing something is selfish, lazy and immoral. I realize that not everyone will be as convicted as I am about this issue, but to those whose conscience is pricked, you have a responsibility as 1 person to do all you can. No great movement ever starts out with a million people. It starts with 1, then 2, then 5 and eventually grows.

If you would like to learn more about Nike and their factories in Indonesia please watch the short documentary Behind the Swoosh. I also encourage you to visit Better World Shopper for more information on which companies are financially and socially responsible and which companies are not. I realize that there are many companies that are not behaving in a humane manner that I do not know about. If you know of a company that is abusing basic human rights, please let me know, I want to be as educated as possible on this issue. The same goes for companies are making a positive difference around the world. My hope is that this post does not read as a diatribe against Nike, Nestle, or Wal-Mart but that it serves as a spark for discussion and thought provocation.

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