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Hey Nike: want to help girls? Forget viral videos, just knock off the sweatshop labor

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

October 12th, 2008

I hadn’t heard of an organization called “The Girl Effect” before five minutes ago, when a friend forwarded this viral video, which uses a basic storyboard format to make the case that educating and providing microloans to girls and women is a core step toward solving global poverty, HIV, inequality and more. It’s a point that we in the women’s rights community have long been making, so I’m always happy to see it floating around the mainstream, even in a simplistic form.

I’m all for viral videos, and I’d much prefer “The Girl Effect” to be excerpted all over corporate news outlets rather than, say, the Barely Political “Obama Girl” meme that burst out of YouTube and made its way through the cable rounds for months, trivializing the candidate as some sort of sex symbol/pop star type via a sexed-up, bikini-clad babe crooning about how she’d give Obama “head of state” in the Oval Office.

That said, I’m not so sure “The Girl Effect” is all that girl-powerific — considering that a major source of its funding is… Nike Foundation. Now, it’s all well and good that the Nike Foundation is offering grants to girls empowerment programs (far be it from me to tell a corporation, even one with an arguably questionable history of inhumane labor practices, not to support good works with their massive profits). And it’s also lovely that they’re including on their website a list of “10 Actions: How girls today can end poverty tomorrow.”

But wouldn’t it also be lovely — and far, far more helpful to girls human rights and their ability to survive and thrive throughout the world — if one of the world’s most prominent employers would stop paying girls a pittance in sweatshops (and stop disclaiming responsibility by outsourcing and subcontracting to contractors who use sweatshop labor) to assemble their sneakers? It strikes me as the height of hypocrisy when a company with a long history of economically abusing girls puts a great face on their corporate brand by talking about the need for girls to be “financially powerful”:


Not surprising, there’s no discussion on Nike Foundation’s website about the need for corporations to offer living wages and fair labor practices in every single one of their factories and offices worldwide, no exceptions. (For information on anti-sweatshop campaigns, you have to turn to groups like Global Exchange which, incidentally, has a campaign focused on curbing Nike’s abuses.)

Considering that women and girls are 90% of the world’s sweatshop workers, and considering Nike’s history of profiting from sweatshop labor, clearly the world’s girls would be better served by Nike putting their money where their business practices are when it comes to making girls financially powerful — rather than parroting the words on a website as a positive branding opportunity. I’m glad they’re funding important-sounding work. But if the company wanted girls to be educated and economically autonomous, they could adopt the motto: “Fair pay? Just do it.” But I doubt we’ll be seeing that commercial any time soon.

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