BY KYLIE MOON
& AVANTIKA CHANDRA
MELBOURNE — On July 5, an embarrassed Nike management was forced to rescind the 20% discount it offered to police, following the announcement by Victorian police commanders that they might ban their officers from accepting the discount.
Police already receive many perks on the job, such as up to 50% discount at McDonald's, free public transport, free entry to clubs (including many striptease venues) and discounts at some brothels. Police even refer to their own uniforms as the "discount suit".
The police commanders' announcement of a possible ban on Nike discounts is a direct result of the massive public exposure of Nike generated by anti-sweatshop campaigners. The July 5 Age newspaper quoted police Superintendent Peter Billing admitting, "If Nike wasn't the subject of protest action then it would be different. But now... that they are the subject of protest action it does change the ball game quite dramatically. Police can't afford to be seen to be aligned to one side or the other."
By the afternoon of July 5, Nike announced it would withdraw the discount.
Nike has been the target of protest action because of its disgusting treatment of workers, both in Australia and in the Third World. For the past 15 Friday nights hundreds of students, unionists and other concerned people have converged on the Nike superstore on the corner of Bourke and Swanston streets, often blockading the doors and forcing the store to cease trading for the evening. Police have regularly used force to disperse the protesters. The weekly campaigning is estimated to be costing Nike $10,000-15,000 each Friday.
"This deal was nothing more than outright bribery", Sarah Peart, media spokesperson for the Nike blockade, told Green Left Weekly. "It just shows whose interests the cops are really concerned with."
Peart argues that the street campaign has had an "overwhelming" impact, adding, " Many people are not even aware that sweatshops exist in Australia, let alone Nike's slave factories in Third World countries where they pay workers as little as $3 a day. Public exposure of Nike's practices is one of our main aims".
Fair Wear, a coalition of community, church and union groups working together to stop the super-exploitation of home-based outworkers in the clothing industry, has been campaigning against Nike for many years, and supports the weekly pickets. They are determined to force Nike into signing the Homeworker's Code of Practice. The code guarantees basic minimum wages and conditions for workers.
"For every one factory worker there are 15 outworkers." Fair Wear coordinator Pamela Curr told Green Left Weekly. The majority of outworkers in Australia are from non-English speaking backgrounds, forced to work out of their homes and often paid as little as $2 per hour. Workers are often unaware of their rights, conditions or even who their employer is.
"Often, they have nothing more than a load of material dumped on their door step, or they collect it, and they are told to have it done by a certain day", said Curr. "That day can be changed or hurried up in the form of speed-ups where outworkers have to stay up all night to finish the job, because instead of picking it up on Friday they want to pick it up on Wednesday and if you don't have it ready then you won't get paid."
Nike continues to refuse to sign the Homeworker's Code of Practice, claiming, Curr explains, "that they don't use outworkers..." We say to Nike when you hand your work out to a contractor to be made you don't know where it is going. The mode of manufacture in Australia is outwork... Nike can give no guarantee that their work is not being made by outworkers."
At the moment it is estimated that there are 350,000 homeworkers in Australia.
If a company fulfils the Homeworker's Code of Practice conditions then it is accredited and able to display the "No Sweatshop" label on its garments. As well as accrediting companies which qualify for its No Sweatshop label, Fair Wear is also campaigning for an industry watchdog. With no-one to answer to, multi-billion dollar companies like Nike are able to continue exploiting their workers. Says Curr: "In the last decade when respected college and church and industry groups have monitored the Nike factories they have found child labour and abuse of workers".
Nike is not just one rotten apple in an otherwise fair system, says Curr. "Nike is a leader of a global system of exploitation. They are industry leaders and their mode of manufacture has been to keep moving to countries where workers have the least rights, where unions are outlawed and where governments and military will often participate to keep workers under control."
Peart argues that a large part of the success of the anti-Nike blockades is that "they are a living and breathing extension of the growing anti-corporate movement in Australia, which is bringing together many different groups and individuals committed to challenging the power of corporations which continue to exploit workers and destroy the environment."
Peart attended the September demonstrations against the International Monetary Fund in Prague last year. "It was the most inspirational thing", she says, "Thousands and thousands of people united in opposition to the inhumane exploitation carried out by companies like Nike, and facilitated by the IMF."
Earlier this year, Peart, who is a member of the Democratic Socialist Party, was the media spokesperson for the Melbourne M1 Alliance, which organised the May 1 blockade of the Australian Stock Exchange.
"The campaign against Nike is not just about Nike", Peart says. "It has also become a campaign against the laws that allow Nike to exploit, the institutions that enforce 'agreements' on poor countries to let Nike operate tax-free and even the police force that colludes with them.
"The anti-corporate movement doesn't have billions of dollars to bribe the cops — what we do have is a vision of human solidarity, justice and democracy. We know that if we continue to protest, then more people will join us — despite the police and their corporate-funded harassment."
Anti-Nike protesters intend to escalate their campaign against Nike, and other such corporate criminals, in the lead up to a three-day blockade of the October 3-5 Commonwealth Business Forum, where the majority of companies attending use the same under handed practices as Nike.