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Protesters cause mob scene at opening of San Francisco store

Associated Press - February 22, 1997

San Francisco – As Nike opened a new store in San Francisco's bustling Union Square Saturday, human rights advocates protested what they call worker exploitation at the sports and footwear giant's factories in Indonesia.

It was a veritable mob scene during an already busy shopping day. Hundreds of shoppers lined up to enter the Nike Town store as a large group of protesters screamed and waved banners. Police arrested at least 16.

San Francisco advocacy group Global Exchange says Indonesian workers at Nike's shoe production facilities are paid below a livable wage: about $2.20 a day. Although a few protesters were wearing Nike sweatshirts, the group is calling for a boycott of Nike products until conditions and wages improve.

Jim Small, a spokesman for Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike, agreed that the conditions at the company's 16 Indonesian plants are not ideal. But he says the wage is closer to $4 a day. He also says Nike is one of only a few sports merchandise and footwear makers to institute a ''code of conduct" in overseas factories.

''The bottom line is: Do we abuse our workers? Absolutely not," Small said. ''We want to make sure that we make the best products, and we want to make sure that we make them in the best possible conditions."

But according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Nike is not one of the 31 major apparel companies that have asked to be put on the ''Trendsetters List" of firms the department hails for exemplary labor practices, said spokesman Tino Serrano in San Francisco.

Walter Johnson, the executive secretary of the San Francisco Labor Council who has joined the protesters, castigating the shoemaker as a ''heartless, disgraceful operation."

''This is a new form of slavery," Johnson said, referring to big corporations that manufacture their goods overseas with cheap labor. ''As Thomas Jefferson said, merchants have no soil of their own. They go to where the profits are."

Mayor Willie Brown, who attended a press event earlier in the week with 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice and women's soccer star Tisha Venturini, ''does not get high marks" for his participation, Johnson said.

Brown, wearing a custom-made fedora with Nike's familiar ''swoosh" logo on the brim, said, ''There are 100 new jobs here. That's the only reason I'm here."

Rice, who has had a Nike endorsement deal for 12 years, bristled when asked whether he had any comment on the protest, saying, ''I don't think it's fair for you guys to throw this in my face."