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Involuntary Labor
Human Trafficking
Factory Conditions
Nike
Health Threats
Factory Culture

Jack Ready
Professor Marc Bousquet
Critical Thinking and Writing 1
 28 November 2011

Human Trafficking in Nike Factories: Linear Version

        Human trafficking and the shoes on your feet: these two ideas appear as far apart as possible, but they may have a very close connection. Human trafficking is most often associated with the sex industry, not sneakers. However you may be surprised to know that the shoes on your feet or clothing on your back could have been created by victims of human trafficking. Factories throughout Asia have exploited the labor of these victims. Nike has been accused for years of using sweatshops with poor working conditions. Many of the factories violate minimum wage laws, overtime laws, and use child labor. In addition to this, some workers have been enslaved and are forced to work in these factories for little or no pay. Nike contracted factories are at the center of this issue. Nike has been accused of using sweatshops with poor working conditions since they began contracting factories overseas Nike has worked to improve the conditions in their factories, however serious change and reform is still needed.
        Very few studies have been conducted that focus on forced labor exploitation within the human trafficking business. Human trafficking is the fastest growing and currently the second largest criminal enterprise in the world. It is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. Many victims are first trafficked at very young ages, and nearly half of the victims today are minors. Human trafficking is most often seen in the sex industry, which makes up about 80% of the victims. Three out of four victims are female. Nearly all victims of sexual exploitation are females, many of them children. Most of the victims end up in the sex trade, however 19% are exploited for labor use. Because there are an estimated 27 million trafficking victims worldwide, 19% of this population accounts for over 5 million people worldwide. These modern day slaves are often forgotten and inadequate research has been compiled concerning their involuntary labor.
        It is also important to understand the difference between human trafficking and people smuggling. These terms are often confused although they have different meanings. People smuggling is when a smuggler is paid to transport or help a person illegally enter a country or territory. Human trafficking is what is more likely to be seen in factory work; workers may or may not have consented to the job, but either way they end up being exploited. Human trafficking has a victim, such as a person forced into being working in a factory, while people smuggling has no victim except the country where immigration laws were broken. Factory workers who are victims of human trafficking are subject to violence and their liberties and freedom are taken away which is a serious human rights violation. Human trafficking has been widely researched and many programs are in place to help victims and stop trafficking. However, nearly all data and research pertain to sex trafficking victims. To fully understand labor exploitation, one must consider working conditions and the societies that exploit these workers.
        The cultures where Nike factories are in Asia are very different than American culture. When Nike began contracting these factories, just providing jobs was enough. The cultures surrounding these factories have always had a strong work ethic; it is the only way to survive. Although working 20 hours a day or sending your children to work may seem outrageous to modern Americans, this is simply survival in other cultures.
        In the 1990’s Nike began addressing the criticism of poor working conditions in their factories and taking steps to correct them. The factories they contracted were not as eager to implement changes as Nike was. In a culture where poor working conditions were the norm, it would not be viable or make economic sense for these Nike contracted factories to make big changes to improve the conditions. Overtime Nike has continued to working towards improving factory conditions in cultures very different than American culture. Despite this, factory workers throughout Asia continue to be abused, trafficked, and exploited.
        Factories in Asia exploit these workers a number of different ways. Many victims of human trafficking are forced into work without their consent. Other victims may have given consent, however they are equally exploited due to false promises and a number of other tactics. Misleading victims into debt bondage is one method many factories have been found guilty of doing. Nike was attacked and criticized when a Malaysian factory that they contracted was found to use forced labor. The factory would recruit workers from foreign countries by guaranteeing them work in Malaysia. When they arrived, they were forced to sign three-year contracts in a language they didn't understand pay an upfront payment of a years salary, which put them in debt immediately. They were also forced to surrender their passports upon arrival. The only way to get their passports back was to buy them, which was nearly impossible on the wages they earned. They worked six days a week for a weekly wage that was less than the cost of a Nike tee shirt. This combination of debt and no identification left the workers with no choice but to face horrid working conditions and stay at the factory.
        With such poor working conditions, one may ask why people keep taking factory jobs in Asia. Often times, potential employees are deceived and tricked into labor, and once they begin work it is difficult to quit. Some Nike factories in China force their workers to pay a months salary when they begin, and if they quit in their first year they loose their deposit. Loosing a months salary is not an option for many factory workers, it is money that keeps them surviving. $45 may not seem like a lot of money to many Americans, but that is the legal minimum wage per MONTH in Vietnam. However, Nike has violated these minimum wage laws and paid workers even less according to pay stubs and studies. Despite the consequences, nearly 75% of Indonesia Nike workers quit per year due to unbearable working conditions. Such conditions include violations of overtime laws and minimum-wage laws. These are not the only dangers facing Nike low-wage workers. Many threats to health are prevalent in factory work, including exposure to toxic chemicals and poor nutrition.
Nike factory workers in all parts of Asia are subject to very dangerous health threats. In China, workers are not given proper gear to protect themselves from the harmful chemicals they are forced to work with. These chemicals cause liver, kidney, and brain damage and far exceed legal limits of exposure. The low-wage workers put at danger are rarely told the truth about the chemicals they work with; many develop serious and chronic health issues without knowing the cause.
        Employees are also overworked. In some factories a typical workday can be 20 hours long. These workers commonly faint and have died in some cases because of these conditions. Toxic fumes, hot working areas, and poor nutrition are just some of the health threats Nike workers face. In Indonesia employees have been physically abused for not wearing regulation shoes or uniforms.  Physical abuse and sexual abuse is common in Vietnamese factories also. Nike CEO Phil Knight has been accused of letting these offences go unpunished and not telling the public the truth.
        Nike has had a long and controversial involvement in this issue. Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman founded Nike in 1964. It currently contracts over 700 factories worldwide, most of which are located in Asia. In 2008, Nike’s CEO Mark Parker made over $7 million. Nike’s annual revenue was $17 billion dollars and the people making their products are struggling to survive. Although Nike has worked to improve the lives of factory workers, these numbers alone show there is a huge and increasing gap of wages and living conditions between higher-level employees and factory workers in Asia. Serious reform is needed to improve working conditions, and doing so will not be easy. Cooperate greed, differing cultural values, and the criminal trafficking of humans are all factors that need to be considered. Although it will be difficult, Nike needs to take this issue more seriously and work towards major improvement.


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