Nike Throws Down 'Sweatshop' Challenge

18 April 2005

In a conversion worthy of St Paul, global sportswear giant Nike is hoping to transform itself from sinner to saint.

The Oregon, US, headquartered company has published a complete list of its 705 contract factories across fifty-one countries in a bid to silence anti-globalization activists and accusations of worker exploitation in the developing world.

Chairman Phil Knight says he wants Nike to become a beacon of corporate responsibility: "We are disclosing our supply chain in an effort to jump-start disclosure and collaboration throughout the industry."

And, in a pentitent show of 'mea culpa', he admits the company has been slow to respond to evidence of poor employment conditions in the past, but has now raised its standards.

The largest number of Nike contractors is in China (124), according to the company's own report, followed by Thailand (73).

Around 620,000 people around the globe currently work producing the Nike brand. Women under the age of 25 make up the majority of these workers and more than seventy five percent are in Asia.

Nike has promised to set up a taskforce to improve compliance with its code of conduct on working hours and says it will act with factories to address the most pressing problems, as well as seek to establish a set of common standards across the industry.

The move has been broadly welcomed by human rights commentators but all agree there is more work to be done.

Meantime, it will be interesting to see when and in what form Nike's decision impacts upon its global advertising strategy. It is unlikely the sportswear giant will miss a trick in exploiting its ethical initiative for marketing advantage.

Data sourced from BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff