Nike workers arrested, injured, fired
A Bangladesh newspaper, the Independent of Dhaka, reported on July 14 that nine workers from the Youngone factory were in jail, 300 injured (50 seriously), 97 fired and 800 charged with criminal offences after they tried to present a statement to their employer, a Nike contractor.
Before the workers had a chance to make their statement, they were attacked by police. The attack was in response to the workers' demand that two of their colleagues, who had been arrested earlier in the week, be released.
The Youngone factory is known for its repressive atmosphere and for suppression of all union activities. Youngone employees, like other workers in the Dhaka export processing zone (EPZ), are deprived of their legal rights and are underpaid.
Youngone, the largest export manufacturer of sportswear in the world, was established in 1974 in Seoul, Korea. In addition to its Bangladesh operations, it has factories in Jamaica, Korea and China and is considering opening factories in Burma.
The company now has five factories in Chittagong and seven in Bangladesh, with two more to open soon. Youngone is the biggest direct foreign investor in Bangladesh.
In the Dhaka EPZ, Youngone employs 2500 workers. This is expected to double when the two new factories become operational.
The EPZs offer investors freedom from taxes and supply them with gas, electricity, water, telephone lines and — last but not least — no unions. In return, factories in the EPZ are supposed to comply with International Labour Organisation norms on working conditions.
Youngone exports 50% of its garments to the US and 50% to Europe. Recently, it has also started to export to Japan. In the US, its biggest buyer is Nike. Half of the company's production in Dhaka is for Nike — about 300,000 pieces per year.
Nike pays Youngone extremely low rates per piece, and it is only because of its large volume that the contractor can survive. Cost cutting is concentrated in the workers' wage rates, which are not expected to increase this year.
Also passed on to the workers is the production time pressure exerted by Nike, which gives the factories only 10 days to make a sales sample of 1000 pieces in different sizes and styles.
[Abridged from Campaign for Labor Rights, 1247 "E" Street SE, Washington, DC, 20003, USA.]