A Call to Arms: How We Must Take the Fight to Nike

09/08/2010 11:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I have spent this summer thinking deeply about why we have not had more successes in the decade-and-a-half struggle to end Nike's exploitative labor practices around the world, specifically in Indonesia, where much work has been done. I could go on and on with my analysis on this, but I will not. It is a waste of time and energy. I want us to focus on the present and on winning.

How can we win?

First, we need to get very clear on what we want. In the U.S., we have talked about winning in terms of "living wages," and in Indonesia, we have talked about winning in terms of "increasing welfare" for workers. Neither of these phrases has any traction with the general public, nor do they have traction in Nike's cutthroat capitalist world. We need to keep it simple when discussing what we want. Nike's Indonesian workers need to tell Nike, "We want a raise. Period." They also need to tell Nike how much of a raise they want. The current basic wage for Nike's Indonesian workers is Rp1.100.000 (US$122) per month. This is a poverty wage. During my last visit to Indonesia in June, workers shared with me that they need at least Rp3.000.000 (US$333) per month to live with any sense of dignity.

How would this raise impact the cost of Nike sneakers? Nike has published that the labor costs on an average pair of sneakers is about $2.50. If that labor cost tripled because of the raise that workers asked for, and if that extra cost were passed on to consumers of Nike sneakers, it would mean that our $100 pair of Nike's would cost $105. Yeah, $5 extra bucks to lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty in the industrial slums of Indonesia. Put it on my bill Nike. I'll pay it.

How can we make this happen?

1. A trade union at one of Nike's Indonesian shoe factories needs to formally request contract negotiations.

2. The trade union must also formally request that representatives from Nike-USA be part of the contract negotiations.

3. In the contract negotiations, the trade union must tell Nike:

* We want a raise so that the basic monthly salary for workers is Rp3.000.000 per month.
* We want this raise ratified in a new contract to which the trade union, the factory owners and Nike are legally bound.
* We want this contract executed within 30 days.

4. If after the 30-day period, Nike refuses the demands of the union, then TEAM SWEAT, which is made up of thousands of workers, students, activists, investors and athletes will publicly pressure Nike until they meet the unions' demands.

Given the victory that USAS and Nike's workers in Honduras recently had, NOW is the time for Nike's Indonesian workers to hit Nike hard. Remember, Nike said that they would never pay out severance to workers, that it was not their responsibility. But because of workers and consumers fighting together, Nike did pay out. We can make them meet workers' demands again.

To my comrades in Nike's factories in Indonesia, it is time for you to shed yourselves of the meekness that has been infused in your hearts by your colonialist past. It is time for you to stand up and fight. You are strong, smart and courageous. You are the reason that Nike makes billions of dollars in profits. Without you, there is no Nike. You can bring Nike to their knees and you have an army of supporters in the international community waiting to fight with you. So act. Now.


Jim Keady