Albion Monitor /News

Nike Accused of "Slave" Child Labor

by Andreas Harsono

(AR) JAKARTA -- An Indonesian labor advocate said that American shoe maker Nike Inc. is employing Indonesian children under 16 years old to produce their athletic sneakers, confirming an earlier report by an American lobbying group that the children work in sweatshops like "slaves."

Indera Nababan of the non-profit Yakoma PGI labor advocacy organization said on Monday that the employees are paid the official minimum wage of 5,200 Indonesian rupiah (US $2.17) per day, which is "just enough to survive to the following day to work again."

"How can you live with [$2.17] in an expensive metropolis like Jakarta," asked Nababan, adding that Nike Inc. has more than a dozen subcontractors in Indonesia, one of which, PT Nikomas Gemilang, based about 100 kilometers west of Jakarta in Serang, employs child workers, he said.

"We are subsidizing, encouraging and failing to criticize the enslavement of young people in the Third World"

American media reported earlier this month that NBA star Michael Jordan and his club the Chicago Bulls are indirectly involved in the child labor dispute on the grounds that the basketball players promote Nike sneakers and in particular the Air Jordan basketball shoes.

Joel D. Joseph, head of Made in the USA Foundation, a union-backed lobbying group with 60,000 members, charged on Thursday that Air Jordans are made in Indonesia by 11- and 12-year-old girls making 22 cents an hour.

"More than 60 years ago the United States banned child labor, sweatshops, long workdays and workweeks. But now we are subsidizing, encouraging and failing to criticize the enslavement of young people in the Third World," said Joseph in his release.

Officials of the Nike Jakarta office declined to comment, saying that they are not permitted to comment to the media. One of the officials said the Nike spokesman for Asia Pacific is Dusty Kidd ,who is based in Hong Kong. When contacted on the telephone, his secretary said that Mr. Kidd is "out of town on vacation."

Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., however, said earlier that its employees monitor adherence to contracts that prohibit child labor and require compliance with labor and wage laws. It said that its overseas factories pay workers often twice the prevailing minimum wage.

A Jakarta-based American analyst also defended Nike, saying that she used to visit four of the Nike sub-contractors in Indonesia. "They work in huge, extremely huge factories like those of the airport hangars, around 8,000 workers each. Modern machinery and young workers, but not children."

Nike does not employ the workers directly

The Indonesian government increased the minimum wage of blue collar workers from 4,600 to 5,200 Indonesian rupiah earlier this year. The increase, however, was heavily criticized by businessmen, arguing that it is a financial burden.

Some executives of middle and small companies even refused to obey the minimum wage regulation, creating tension between labor activists, the government and the business community in Indonesia, which hosts the largest Moslem population in the world.

Nababan, however, questioned the analysis, saying that he works and has a lot of contacts in the working areas. "They work and live like slaves, you know that!" he said.

A Jakarta-based international labor observer also confirmed the report, saying that they have "boxes of reports" on Nike abusing worker rights in Indonesia which include "child laborers or workers earning 20 to 24 cents an hour, less than two dollars a day."

The observer, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Nike does not employ the workers directly. "They form partnership with companies with ties to the military and the First Family [of President Suharto] as well as Chinese businessmen. They are the one who handle the workers."

The American shoe maker, however, has a representative here which oversees the management of their subcontractors, as other multinational corporations also do. He doubted the effectiveness of the office.

As an example, the observer pointed to the San Francisco-based Levi Strauss jeans manufacturer, which ended some of their contracts with local garment companies following the breaching of the American corporation's code of conduct.

The observer, however, said that he has no proof of the child labor, adding he believes such a practice exists because it is quite usual to employ uneducated children in rural areas.

"It costs $5 to make the shoes here and [they] sell them at the United States at more than $125," he said.

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Albion Monitor June 30, 1996 (

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