My brother could probably be the poster child for Nike. I vividly remember seeing him head off to his first day of college, fully decked out in Nike paraphernalia: “I’m That Dude” emblazoned black tee, mesh Nike shorts, high-rise swoosh-adorned socks, black basketball sneakers struggling under the weight of huge swoosh marks. While I tend to gravitate towards slouchy grandma sweaters more fit for retirement homes than a collegiate environment, I do not judge his aesthetics; our tastes are blatantly different. What I can judge is that Nike has a dark history; in 1998 the multinational corporation was the subject of a major lawsuit, alleging that Nike had manipulated consumers by advertising false corporate responsibility.
Nike defended itself by claiming that its public statements regarding corporate responsibility fell under the category of free speech, which is protected by the constitution, while Kasky decried it as commercial speech, which is not protected. Through a series of appeals, the case was eventually taken to the Supreme Court, which ruled against Nike in 2002. This was a major event in the corporate world. It signaled a victory for the consumer, a victory for workers, and a victory for the underdog. It sent a message to corporations that they cannot dupe the consumer.
Under immense pressure, Nike instituted an equally immense series of reforms. It immediately began to implement significant changes, starting with a new code of responsibility that improved working conditions for 800,000 employees at 700 factories in 52 countries. To bolster public confidence, they adopted a policy of transparency, which includes a complete online interactive map of their far-flung factories. Beyond improving working conditions, Nike overhauled their entire corporate philosophy, endorsing theCERES Principles, a ten-point code of corporate environmental conduct, which includes numerous stipulations related to public dialogue.
Nike’s website states, “It’s not just about getting better at what we do – addressing impacts throughout our supply chain – it’s about striving for the best, creating value for the business and innovating for a better world.” So, the problem has been solved, right? A closer look reveals a different story. Despite the major public promises towards responsibility, Nike was accused of labor abuses in 2008. It promised to make changes only to be charged with additional abuses in 2011.
What is a conscientious consumer to make of this situation? It highlights the need for us to be aware. The reason that Nike made changes in the first place was due to responsible consumer investigation and protest. While it still is plagued with problems, Nike has made substantial strides in committing itself to better practices. Nike is not perfect, but we as consumers have the power to force it to be better. If you notice practices that are not fair, take action and file a complaint (such as through the Consumer Affairs Forum).
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