Nike and Adidas 'have failed to stop sweatshop abuses'

By Richard Lloyd Parry
Friday 08 March 2002 01:00

Indonesian workers producing sports shoes for the multinational companies Nike and Adidas live in extreme poverty and face prosecution and physical assault for trade union activity, according to a report published yesterday.

Although conditions have improved over the last 18 months, workers are still subjected to verbal abuse, intrusive physical examinations and dangerous conditions.

Timothy Connor, author of the report, We Are Not Machines, published in Australia by Oxfam Community Aid Abroad, said: "Nike and Adidas have not done enough to address the concerns of human rights groups, consumers and workers themselves."

"Those improvements which have occurred are commendable, and demonstrate that positive change in response to international pressure is possible. Unfortunately they fall well short of ensuring that Nike and Adidas workers are able to live with dignity," he added.

Nike, the world's largest sports shoe company, has 11 Indonesian factories producing up to 55 million pairs of shoes a year. Only one pair in 50 is sold in Indonesia, the majority being exported to the United States.

The company is paying the golfer Tiger Woods $100m (£70m) for a five-year endorsement contract. But full-time workers at its factories are paid as little as $2 (£1.40) a day. Workers are thus forced to work long hours, and parents with children often have to send them away to be brought up by relatives in other parts of the country, and see them only three or four times a year.

At the Nikomas Gemilang factory in west Java, which produces sports shoes for both Nike and Adidas, half a dozen workers are reported to lose fingers in cutting machinery every year, although there has been a reduction in illnesses caused by poisonous organic solvents used in the process.

In the same factory, female workers are routinely subjected to humiliating physical examinations by company doctors before they are allowed to claim legally mandated but unpaid menstrual leave of two days a month.

Mr Connor said: "There have been improvements in terms of a reduction in sexual harassment, the availability of sick leave and a reduction in the level of humiliation against workers."

One female worker was arrested and imprisoned for a month last year for organising a strike at the PT Panarub factory, which supplies Adidas.

"Fear dominates the lives of these workers," the report concludes. "They are afraid that speaking openly about factory conditions or getting involved in active unions will put their livelihoods in danger."

Chris Helzer, a Nike executive, said the report was not an accurate reflection of working conditions in Indonesia. "Interviewing 35 workers out of 110,000 workers in a country is not at all statistically significant or representative," he said.

"On wages, entry-level workers are probably paid five to 10 per cent more than the [average minimum wage] amount mandated by the government.".

Both Nike and Adidas have said they regularly monitor labour practices in the factories contracted to produce for them and will break off dealings with contractors who do not conform to company standards.

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