2011 July 23 Saturday
Nike Helpless To Stop Worker Abuse

Nike is a powerless corporation that really has very little freedom for maneuver. So feel sympathy for Nike. Maybe help them out by buying a pair of shoes.

SUKABUMI, Indonesia ó Workers making Converse sneakers in Indonesia say supervisors throw shoes at them, slap them in the face and call them dogs and pigs.

Dog and horse lovers are of course incensed to read this. Why speak pejoratively of dogs and horses by comparing them to the the lowest status human workers? How about a Western social movement to stop the pejorative usage of names for other species? These supervisors could make other choices. Why not compare the workers to inanimate objects? Or perhaps to other workers of even lower status? Surely, 25 cent per hour worker exists and these Indonesian workers could be insulted by comparison with them.

Nike, the brandís owner, admits that such abuse has occurred among the contractors that make its hip high-tops but says there was little it could do to stop it.

Really, if you need to use the lowest cost workers possible you've got to use workers who have no legal protections at all. Also, the workers should be desperate for work. This is the only way to maximize profit margins. Nike has few choices to make that would not cut into profits. Poor Nike. To be fair: Nike says it has old contracts to licensees over which it has limited leverage. But it could bribe licensees to modify contracts. Oh wait, my bad. That would cut into profits.

Of course, there's an upside to this sort of story: If you a poor American but can still afford a pair of shoes that costs the equivalent of a couple hundred hours of Indonesian labor then by wearing Converse shoes you can advertise your ability to figuratively walk over lots of people even poorer and lower status than you are.

In the article they say at one plant the workers make 50 cents an hour, which leaves little left over after paying food and bunkhouse-type lodging (Malthusian Trap anyone?). This seems like a symptom of a deeper problem: too many people. Imagine people practiced more birth control. I expect pay and working conditions would improve. Mary Ellen Harte and Anne Ehrlich say overpopulation is the root problem. Jeremy Grantham thinks we are nearing something close to Peak Everything.

The question in my mind: Can we come up with ways to generate energy cheap enough that we can use energy to compensate for dwindling fresh water, minerals, and other resources? Until we do it looks like a Zero Sum future where the sum will start shrinking at some point.

Update: See physics prof Tom Murphy on why long term growth can't be sustained.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 July 23 10:31 AM  Economics Labor

It's Possible said at July 23, 2011 11:27 AM:

"The question in my mind: Can we come up with ways to generate energy cheap enough that we can use energy to compensate for dwindling fresh water, minerals, and other resources?"

Of course, we just need to ask "what if..." or "how about if..." and use Science, like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVfgbIK2jvU (At the 2:06 miute)

Now that's really interesting, I think.

A.Prole said at July 24, 2011 7:15 AM:

If the workers are paid so pitiably badly, and the plasticky material that makes up a pair of sneakers is so damned cheap, then why are sneakers so damned expensive?
A mega rip-off is occurring (profit margins 1000%), with the saps 'paying for the name'.

Black Death said at July 24, 2011 10:01 AM:

The independent contractor dodge didn't originate with Nike. I was once employed by a certain southwestern state. The workers who cleaned our building every night were entirely Hispanic and, I suspect, entirely illegal. Most of them spoke little English, but I speak a little Spanish and could talk to them. They worked for an independent contractor, which had the cleaning contract with the state. In the event that the whole thing blew up, the state could claim plausible deniability and be shocked, shocked! that the workers were illegal immigrants.

no i don't said at July 24, 2011 4:58 PM:

"A mega rip-off is occurring (profit margins 1000%), with the saps 'paying for the name'."

I'll second that. And the sad thing is that once upon a time governments started playing the game of the fat owners. Instead of regulating the hunger for lucrative profit at any cost, the government became another product of the big companies.

In a country where a president is supposed to govern for everybody, doesn't the sight of a capitalist president make you really sick?

In a country where a president -whether "democrat" or "republican"- should be the personification of honorability, doesn't the sight of him as a flamboyant yuppie playing golf seriously indignate you?

In a so-called "republic" where a president is supposed to exercise an enlightened restraint and elegant moderation, doesn't the display of a proberbial lack of education and culture really drives you up the wall?

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