Nike agrees code to ban sweated labour

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The Independent Online
If Tiger Woods had a second for politics yesterday, he may have found one more reason to feel relief. Nike, corporate sponsor for the vaunted young winner of this weekend's golf Masters, is swearing off exploitation.

In a key battle in the war for improved conditions in Third World sweatshops Nike and other US clothing giants like LL Bean and Liz Claiborne signed a code of conduct on employment practices around the globe.

The unprecedented agreement, initialled at the White House with President Clinton, is an attempt by the companies to reverse months of disastrous publicity generated by reports of treatment of factory workers around the globe that has ranged from unfair to inhumane. Nike has been the worst hit.

The revelations about Nike - which reportedly punished 56 workers in Vietnam by forcing them to run in the sun until several collapsed - has hurt some of its stars also. As a role-model for racial integration, Mr Woods, who has a mixed African-American and Thai heritage - has not escaped.

Negotiated over several months by the companies with human rights organisations, international labour representatives and the Clinton administration, the code includes provisions for outside monitors to visit individual factories and check for violations.

Additionally, the corporations will undertake to honour a 60-hour maximum working week - with the possibility of "voluntary" overtime - and to respect the minimum wage laws of the countries in which plants are located. Nor will they be allowed to employ workers under the age of fourteen.

In return, companies abiding by the code will be able to sew "No Sweat" labels into their products to reassure shoppers that in spending their money they are not indirectly supporting slave labour.

It is not clear that when violations are found they will be publicised.