According to an AP exclusive, Indonesian factory workers making Converse sneakers say they face daily abuse at the hands of supervisors, from having sneakers thrown at them to being slapped in the face to being called dogs and pigs. Nike, the brand’s owner, acknowledges that these abuses take place among some hired contractors but claim that there is little they can do to stop it.
Dozens of workers interviewed by The Associated Press and a document released by the footwear and athletic apparel giant show that Nike has failed to meet the standards it set for itself a decade ago to end it’s use of sweatshop labor. Nearly two-thirds of the factories that make Converse products fail to meet its standards for contract manufacturers but insists it cannot address many of those problems because many factories operate under contracts that were set before Nike bought Converse in 2003. This excuse fails to explain abuses that workers allege at the Pou Chen Group factory in Sukabumi. The Pou Chen Group factory did not start making Converse products until four years after Nike bought Converse. One worker there said she was kicked by a supervisor last year after making a mistake while cutting rubber for soles.
“We’re powerless,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals. “Our only choice is to stay and suffer, or speak out and be fired.”
The 10,000 mostly female workers at the Taiwanese-operated Pou Chen plant make around 50 cents an hour. That’s enough, for food and bunkhouse-type lodging, but little else. Some workers interviewed by the AP in March and April described being hit or scratched in the arm – one man until he bled. Others said they were fired after filing complaints.
“They throw shoes and other things at us” said a 23-year-old woman in the embroidery division. “They growl and slap us when they get angry.
“It’s part of our daily bread.”
Mira Agustina, 30, said she was fired in 2009 for taking sick leave, even though she produced a doctor’s note.
“It was a horrible job,” she said. “Our bosses pointed their feet at us, calling us names like dog, pig or monkey.” All are major insults to Muslims. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Nike came under heavy criticism a decade ago for its use of foreign sweatshops and child labor and has taken steps to improve conditions at its 1,000 overseas factories, but the progress it has made at factories is not fully reflected in those making Converse products.
An internal report Nike released to the AP after it inquired about the abuse show that nearly two-thirds of 168 factories making Converse products worldwide fail to meet Nike’s own standards for contract manufacturers.
Twelve are in the most serious category, indicating problems that could range from illegally long work hours to denying access to Nike inspectors. A Nike spokeswoman said the company was not aware of physical abuse occurring at those factories. Another 97 are in a category defined as making no progress in improving problems ranging from isolated verbal harassment to paying less than minimum wage. A further six factories had not been audited by Nike.
Nike blames problems on pre-existing licenses to produce Converse goods that it says prevent the parent company from inspecting factories or introducing its own code of conduct.
“I simply find it impossible that a company of the size and market power of Nike is impotent in persuading a local factory in Indonesia or anywhere else in meeting its code of conduct,” said Prakash Sethi, a corporate strategy professor at Baruch College at the City University of New York.
Critics of outsourcing manufacturing to the lowest-cost countries say it keeps prices down but allows apparel, electronics and toy companies to reduce their accountability for the conditions in such factories.