New Internationalist

Feminists target Nike ahead of the Olympics

June 2012

Nick Harvey reports on a campaign to expose sportswear firms who exploit women workers while boasting Olympic values.

An item from the Agenda section of the magazine, where we look beyond the news curve with reports and comment on breaking stories.

Sportswear companies are basking in the reflected glory of the Olympics while they continue to exploit women in their factories abroad, human rights groups claim. In March, activists from UK Feminista gathered outside Nike stores in London and Glasgow and proceeded to ‘cheat’ their way through a series of races, later holding a medal ceremony that awarded Nike the title of ‘biggest cheat’.

‘Nike’s neglect of the endemic abuses of women’s rights in their supply chains makes their claims to a belief in “unleashing human potential” and their association with Olympic values laughable,’ says Fiona Ranford, UK Feminista spokesperson. ‘By sourcing from factories that use sexual harassment to intimidate and deny maternity rights in order to meet impossible production targets, Nike are profiting from gender inequality.’

UK Feminista
Activists outside a London store award Nike the title of ‘biggest cheat’ for using exploited women workers in its factories abroad. UK Feminista

New research has uncovered systematic violations of workers’ rights in Bangladeshi factories supplying garments for Nike, Puma and Adidas. And around 85 per cent of these garment workers are women, many of whom experience sexual harassment at work as well as low wages, long hours and the risk of being fired if they are pregnant.

‘I had my first child last year, but I can’t spend enough time with her as I have to be at the factory 12 hours a day, seven days a week,’ says Rahima Khatun, who works as a sewing machine operator at an Adidas factory.

‘I have no choice: working overtime is compulsory and the managers are constantly swearing at us and pushing us if we don’t work fast enough.’

Human rights groups are planning several more protests leading up to the Olympics as they set out to expose the hypocrisy of unethical companies that associate themselves with the positive spirit of the Games.

‘If you’re a company and you want to get the kudos and the benefits of being associated with the Olympics, then you simply can’t be involved in human rights abuses and environmental damage,’ says John Hilary, executive director of War on Want. ‘And we’d also like to hold the Olympic movement to account for the part it plays by being connected with these companies. They can’t have it both ways.’

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 453 This feature was published in the June 2012 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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