February 4, 2001 8:04 PM   Subscribe

So Shey tried to order a pair of Nike's from their custom shop with the word "sweatshop" on them. They refused three times, listing a new excuse every time. I smell a great culture jamming project. My suggestion? Let's all go do the same.
posted by fraying (30 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
(And yes, I found this link at Plastic, the MetaFilter it's okay to like.)

posted by fraying at 8:06 PM on February 4, 2001

umm, no thanks. If they were to decide to go ahead and make them, I really don't want some nike sneakers with the word "sweatshop" on them. :)

On another note, I wouldn't agree with you that Nike listed "a new excuse every time." Just me?
posted by howa2396 at 8:18 PM on February 4, 2001

At least in the correspondence linked, they don't. They simply relate their legal out's each time while making it more and more clear that they are availing themselves of their universal "we reserve the right not to print anything for any reason and we don't have to tell you why" clause. I'm just curious what this exercise was intended to prove - that Nike is too stupid to review the requested slogans and so will print anything, even criticism of itself? That Nike is a big, bad corporation that won't print something bad about themselves on their own products? Or, is this just a prank?
posted by m.polo at 8:30 PM on February 4, 2001

still funny. i'd wear em. in fact, i'll go give it a shot right now.

only one problem: sweatshop has nine letters... the shoes only accept 8.
posted by o2b at 8:37 PM on February 4, 2001

I thought someone tried this when nike launched their iD project? IIRC, there was a list of words you couldn't order on their shoes, and they were all culture jam-y, if that's a word.
posted by mathowie at 9:18 PM on February 4, 2001

You know, I lived in Korea for two years, while in the Army. I saw the people who worked in these factories, every day. I saw the 6 x 6 rooms that entire families lived in. I saw them freeze in the cold months. I saw them having to turn to Army relief efforts for food. I saw hundreds and hundreds of children with dead parents, dead in their 20's from overwork and hazardous working conditions. Unless you've seen it, you can't quite imagine how people can live like that. It's a not a good life and you can't even begin to imagine how it must be.

Since then (1986-88), I've never bought a product from Nike, Reebok, LA Gear and many more. Never will either.
posted by Dean_Paxton at 9:20 PM on February 4, 2001

Ooops... I just re-read that. Sounds kind of preachy. Sorry about the guilt trip.
posted by Dean_Paxton at 9:21 PM on February 4, 2001

Does anyone remember this? You can still make all the nike commercials you want, and say what you want, though they seem to be removing them after some time passes.
posted by mathowie at 10:09 PM on February 4, 2001

seeing as they've shortened the allowed letters from 9 to 8, why not try "swetshop" instead. it's harder for them to object to something that's not even a word, and it gets the same message across.
posted by titboy at 1:31 AM on February 5, 2001

Hey Dean, did you see the other Korean people working for Korean companies getting paid anymore. I doubt it. So these big multinationals exploit the locals, but so do local companies.

Sure this does not make it right, but I don't want people thinking it is the "nikes' of this world are the worst employers. In my experience, working conditions in multinational corporations are far better and the pay is a lot higher than for local companies. Actually some shoe companies, here I am talking about Reebok as I know a little bit about them, go out of their way to provide good working conditions for their employees as they know people will be watching, but the local textile company down the road doesn't give a shit as no one cares about them.
posted by jay at 5:18 AM on February 5, 2001

Don't know if I'm a minority opinion here or not, but I'll give this a try.
The problem with criticizing sweatshops is:
-people work there because its the best job they can get. If better jobs existed in the area, then that's where the workers would go. If Nike is providing jobs of any kind that people are willing to do, then they are probably improving the standard of living for those who would otherwise be agricultural workers. Just because we have cushy jobs doesn't mean that everybody has that option.
-most industrialized nations went through a period of sweatshops. It's the natural course that economics takes most societies through. We have, thankfully, passed beyond that point, but does that mean everybody else has to bypass it?
posted by citizensoldier at 5:24 AM on February 5, 2001

Thanks for saying it, Citizensoldier.

Sure, these folks work in sweatshops. What would their alternative be? We silly Americans seem to think everyone in the world should have our standard of living. Is sitting in a sweatshop all day any worse than sitting in a rice paddy?

It's nice to be PC and not wear Nikes, but it's a little like protesting animal testing by not buying Mary Kay Cosmetics. It's totally impossible to not be effected by this. I'm sure you drive around in a car that has some part built in Korea by a kid, or something on your bike is manufactured in Thailand. Right now, you're probably posting on Meta-Filter using a computer built with the blood and sweat of a nine-year old girl. I hope you're happy.

Besides, if these ten-year-old kids don't stitch up my Nikes, who will?

A bunch of kids I don't know working 20-hour shifts is a small price to pay for my personal comfort.
posted by bondcliff at 6:03 AM on February 5, 2001

I completely agree and I completely disagree at the same time, bondcliff. I think it is almost completely unavoidable that we'll buy things made in sweatshops. Especially clothing. But that doesn't mean we can't be aware of this, and choose to buy less of it.

Yes, I think "sitting in a rice paddy" is better than a Nike sweatshop. The problem is the conditions of the job. Workers (children) are not given breaks for lunch, let alone the bathroom. Their pay is poor, their living conditions are awful, and they work in a hot, dangerous environment.

Just because someone will work for one dollar a week doesn't mean it's right. Nike could follow the WRC and provide a living wage, and fair conditions for its workers, but it doesn't. (I'm not saying Nike is the only one to blame here, it's just the corporate entity in the post).
posted by gramcracker at 6:31 AM on February 5, 2001

but it's a little like protesting animal testing by not buying Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Yup, then you get to have cosmetics that were tested for the first time on *your face*. *Much* smarter, that.
posted by baylink at 7:14 AM on February 5, 2001

Right now, you're probably posting on Meta-Filter using a computer built with the blood and sweat of a nine-year old girl.

Ewww...so that's why my desk is all wet and gross.
posted by jpoulos at 7:38 AM on February 5, 2001

Right now, you're probably posting on Meta-Filter using a computer built with the blood and sweat of a nine-year old girl.

Of course. What do you think powers the magic in these boxes but the blood of a virgin (and a little belladonna) to call and contain the demon?
posted by kindall at 7:44 AM on February 5, 2001

people work there because its the best job they can get.

Leaving aside the notion that it's OK for multinational corporations to exploit people as long as local corporations do it worse, sweat shops don't always involve free choice for the workers. Many of these shops are staffed by children as young as 8 and practice "company town" tactics like charging workers more for their room and board than they make for six months, locking them into slavery-like circumstances.
posted by rcade at 7:47 AM on February 5, 2001

If Nike won't let you have shoes with "sweatshop" on them, simply order two pair, one with "sweat" and one with "shop" (sent to different addresses of course). Surely they won't object to an athletic shoe that embraces the idea of perspiration, or consumption. Then mix the pairs so one shoe has each word. That has the added advantage of getting those poor exploited workers another two cents or so.
posted by kindall at 8:50 AM on February 5, 2001

I never quite got the idea of culture jamming that required purchasing a product from the same company you're trying to jam.

Personally, I wish they'd cut out the middle-man and just make 8-year-old Korean kids available for purchase at the local Footlocker.

I have a lawn that needs mowing.

posted by bondcliff at 8:55 AM on February 5, 2001

most industrialized nations went through a period of sweatshops

Ahh, the good old days of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (warning: article contains photos of dead people).
posted by dithered at 9:09 AM on February 5, 2001

It's not just about manufactured goods anymore. These guys bill 35 bucks an hour to produce web apps. I wonder what the programmers take home? Look for much more of this in the future as companies seek to circumvent the H-1B visa process.
posted by gimli at 11:47 AM on February 5, 2001

In 1992, Nike paid Michael Jordan more money ($20 000 000) for endorsing their athletic shoes and apparel than it's entire 30 000-strong Indonesian workforce for making them.

Tiger Woods just signed a $100 000 000 endorsement deal.

Mia Hamm makes $2842/day; Indonesian factory workers make $1.25/day.

I think this disparity is especially upsetting.

(source - the olympic wage project)
posted by lumiere at 1:15 PM on February 5, 2001

Ooops... I just re-read that. Sounds kind of preachy. Sorry about the guilt trip.

Honestly Dean, I don't think you did, not at all. I made the same decision as you. I just don't feel comfortable about buying Nikes anymore.

That said, I live a typical human life, full of flaws, inconsistencies, and contradictions, and don't claim to do otherwise.
posted by lucien at 1:26 PM on February 5, 2001

I saw the people who worked in these factories, every day. I saw the 6 x 6 rooms that entire families lived in. I saw them freeze in the cold months. I saw them having to turn to Army relief efforts for food.

Dean: If these sweatshops are currently their best option, what happens to the families who can't get these jobs?
posted by mikewas at 1:53 PM on February 5, 2001

Yes, I think "sitting in a rice paddy" is better than a Nike sweatshop.

gramcrackr: You have the luxury of making that choice for yourself. I have the luxury of choosing my own occupation. If these Korean families have chosen to work in the sweatshops rather than the rice paddies, who are you to tell them they can't?
posted by mikewas at 1:56 PM on February 5, 2001

Often they do not have the choice to work in the rice paddies. The national governments earn much more money from converting land to industrial use from agricultural use. Nike will pay a much higher tax than the local land owner, which is often the government as well.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 3:01 PM on February 5, 2001

Mike - Isn't it Western societies who are being proscriptive? Isn't it us who are taking away choice, by stripping these countries of their natural resources, and paying them virtually nothing in return. Us telling them what the West desires will make them happier?

How can a family go back onto the land when, as has occurred in so many parts of the world, their land has been taken away from them?

Why is it an either/or thing? Why can't companies like Nike just treat these workers with more respect, pay them a better wage and give them better conditions?

I don't think there is any real "choice" here, just the illusion of one. Nobody chooses to work in a sweatshop if they have a reasonable and humane alternative. They don't.

We are trying to personalise this because we are trying to understand it; trying to be compassionate and rightly so. However what is happening here is probably on a scale which is incomprehensible to a lot of people.
posted by lucien at 3:03 PM on February 5, 2001

I don't have a problem with companies paying the prevailing local wages. I do have a problem with them employing children and working people for ridiculously long hours. Both of those went away in this country a century ago.

I also don't have a problem with individual consumers making their purchase decisions based on which corporations encourage or discourage these practices. If that takes the form of buying my shoes at the next store over, so be it. If that takes the form of people marching in the streets to embarrass the corporation's leadership, that's cool too.
posted by dhartung at 6:24 PM on February 5, 2001

I remember reading/hearing about this 'sweatshop Nikes' thing a while ago -- for those wondering, the point wasn't to actually get the shoes, but to get Nike to embarrass themselves while refusing to make them. I don't think anybody thought Nike would actually print them -- the company's been the target of sweatshop protests for years now.

You can't let theory run roughshod over reality in situations like this. Those sweatshops are wretched places where no one should have to work or live -- regardless of how poor the rest of their country is -- and regardless of what economists tell us about rational choice and how those workers wouldn't work there unless they wanted to. Things are more complicated than that. Living in countries where agriculture is becoming less and less of a viable option (often preventably so) these people have no choice but to leave their farms and work in a factory at a loss. When, a few years later, the factory picks up and leaves to go to some even more impoverished place, those people often have no resources on which to fall back. Millions of Western dollars go into building disposable sweatshop factories instead of into the infrastructure that could help people lift themselves out of poverty. I would say that we have the option of calling it 'rational choice,' but that in those parts of the world they have only necessary choice -- necessity rather than deliberation.

Obviously I'm just parroting lots of books I've read, but it's possible to be pro-capitalist and pro-globalization and still feel that sweatshops are bad - read No Logo or the more old-school and better Down and Out in Paris and London. Companies like Nike don't have to turn commie -- they just have to compromise a little efficiency and be a little more humane.
posted by josh at 4:55 PM on November 14, 2001

Lots of nice and intelligent and often witty postings here. For which, thanks.
What bothers me is that a company, say Saucony (I wear only this brand), at last gives in and has all their shoes made ovrseas (for a time, only certain models were doneoutside America), the price remains the same. What they have done is to lower the cost of labor and maximize their profits instead of passing any of the savings on to me, the customer.
While we may dispise the working conditions and salaries of overseas sweatshops, those working at minimum wage in America--givien cost of living--do not do much better either. A minimum wage is nice but if the cost of food and housing etc is high, then the current minimum is nearly useless and keeps people living at poverty level.
posted by Postroad at 5:12 PM on November 14, 2001

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