Gordon Feeney, Jakarta – A new Australian study has accused glamour sports shoe maker Nike of callous exploitation of workers, including children as young as 11.
The study, by Perth academic Mr Peter Hancock, also alleges that in one case in early 1996 a 23-year old woman collapsed from exhaustion in a factory licensed by Nike to make its products.
The woman later died after she was taken to lie in a mosque and received no medical attention, Mr Hancock alleged in a report that dubbed the Nike operation as "Satan's factories".
Nike and its Indonesian licensee have consistently denied allegations of worker exploitation across Asia. The company argues it is not directly responsible for the licensee factories.
Its frontman, basketball superstar Michael Jordan, said last year: "It's Nike's responsibility. I only endorse the shoe products."
Mr Hancock said yesterday he had spent eight months, from June 1996 to February this year, at two Nike licensee factories sotu of Bandung in West Java, and had been deeply disturbed at what he saw.
"I was shocked. I found it unbelievable; they are making record profits and yet they have really shocking conditions", he said.
Me Hancock said he found the average working day lasted 11.5 hours, that workers wre instantly sacked for taking sick leave and that woman workers suffered systematic verbal abuse.
Some 80% of workers were forced to work seven days a week and most earned Indonesian minimumlegal wage - about $2.50 a day plus overtime, that was sometimes docked for underperformance.
Mr Hancock said other major sports shoe operations, including Nike rival Reebok, had far more satisfactory working conditions.
He rejected Nike's assertion that it had litle control over licensee factories, reporting that two US Nike representatives worked on the factory floor.
During his study, Mr Hancock said he had found many factory workers aged under 16, with the youngest 11.
"The 11-year old girl was under the strict control of her parents who said he was too stupid to continue at school. They have to say that as an excuse to the Government for taking her out of school" he said.
Mr Hancock said Indonesian authorities appeared to have little interest in workers' conditions. "Even middle-level factory managers told stories of government inspectors coming to the factory to receive what you might call gratuities but making no inspection."
The title of the report, "Nike's satanic factories in West Java", was taken from an account by a villager.
"I arrived in the old man's village at about 8pm to survey factory workers. I asked him where I could find women who worked for Feng Tey [the name of the Nike licensee].
"He replied that they had not returned since leaving at 4am the previous morning.
"He told me the women were called "walking ghosts who work at Satan's factory" and if I wanted to speak with them I would have to become a ghost myself."
Brad Norington reports that the report on working conditions in factories producing shoes for Nike in West Java follows a similar study by the US-based Vietnam Labour Watch, which reported on harsh conditions and low pay for women in four Vietnam factories contracted to produce sports shoes for Nike.
According to the Vietnam report, women as young a 15 were working for 20c an hour and had to endure corporal punishment as a penalty for wearing non-regulation shoes.