Alternative opening ceremony targets Nike

Wednesday, September 20, 2000 - 11:00

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BY JOHN GAUCI

SYDNEY — Pressure on Nike has been stepped up by an "Alternative Opening Ceremony" organised by NikeWatch, which challenged the sportswear giant to live up to the "Olympic ideal of human dignity".

The September 11 ceremony, in Victoria Park here, was part of a campaign to get the company to improve pay and working conditions in its factories in Asia and Australia.

Julia Murray, the campaign worker for clothing industry watchdog Fairwear, explained "Despite the majority of major footwear manufacturers having signed the Australian code of practice, which guarantees workers a livable wage and safe working conditions, Nike has consistently refused to sign the agreement".

Former professional US soccer player Jim Keady was also highly critical of Nike's attempt to appropriate the "Olympic ideal".

"The call of the Olympic movement is to build a peaceful and better world. One of the ideals of the Olympic charter is to harness the development of humanity. Nike, a major Olympic sponsor, doesn't uphold these ideals", he said.

Keady was sacked from his coaching position at Saint John's university in the US for refusing to endorse Nike products and spent a month in Indonesia trying to survive on $2 a day, the wage paid to workers producing Nike products.

Keady called on all Olympic athletes to "pressure Nike to work with unions and human rights groups, for Nike to publicly disclose all factories producing its products and to pay workers enough to meet their basic needs".

Julianto has also had direct experience with the clothing giant. Until April, the 23-year-old Indonesian factory worker worked for Nike's sport shoe supplier, the giant Nikomas Gemilang factory in West Java, which employs 23,000 workers.

After helping to organise a demonstration and two-day strike in the factory in December, Julianto was subject to extreme intimidation and threats of violence. He resigned in April.

"Two dollars a day isn't enough for a worker to survive", he told the crowd. "It costs $3 a day for a single person to survive and $4-5 for a couple to survive."

"Wages are so low that many workers are forced to work 60-70 hours a week or have a second job. Many Nike factories claim to supply accommodation. This means 12 workers sharing a small room with no pillows or beds."

"Workers who fail to reach their quotas must work unpaid overtime and are subjected to humiliation", he said. "There are many accidents. At least one worker's finger or limb is lost a week. We must continue to pressure Nike to pay a livable wage."

Leslie Kretzu spent August in Indonesia, meeting Nike workers and trying to survive on their wages.

"Under Indonesian law, women are entitled to two days' menstrual leave each month. Female workers in Indonesian sweatshops are being asked to pull down their pants in front of the factory doctor to claim their legally mandated menstrual leave," she revealed. "Often this is after approaching their line leader, foreman and management. Many women opt to bleed through their clothes rather that face this type of intimidation."

"Many women are Muslim and are forbidden to reveal their skin", she continued. "Simply going to the bathroom means having your supervisor yell insults at you. This is a violation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights."

Kretzu called upon all female athletes to use their international platform to take a stand.

The Sydney Trade Union Choir opened the ceremony with two satirical songs, "Don't buy Nike" and "Shame, Nike, shame".

Meanwhile, a giant Nike shoe the size of a small car paraded around Victoria Park, hotly pursued by giant pink pencils desperately attempting to get Nike to sign the Australian Homeworkers Code of Practice. The shoe, pulled on ropes by "Nike workers", was driven by a whip-wielding "Nike executive".

The event was jointly organised by Community Aid Abroad-Oxfam Australia's NikeWatch, Fairwear and the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia.

From GLW issue 421