Exposing Nike’s Exploitation: Workers Speak Out in Webinar

In a critical revelation of Nike’s public image, the ‘Nike’s Equality Lie: Workers Speak Out’ webinar exposed the stark contrast between the corporate narrative of gender equality and the lived experiences of garment workers across Asia. The event, hosted by Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) and Global Labor Justice (GLJ), on May 30th, brought to light the harsh realities faced by these workers under Nike’s banner of ‘equality’.

A year ago, AFWA and GLJ launched the ‘Fight the Heist’ campaign to combat wage theft – focusing on Nike’s exploitation of women workers. In February 2023, the campaign led to an OECD complaint against Nike. The struggle for Nike to meet the campaign’s demand continues, with women garment workers, the unacknowledged force behind Nike’s vast profits, bravely speaking out.

This webinar, as part of the ongoing campaign, served as a crucial extension of a larger movement seeking justice for exploited workers. Testimonies from the workers themselves were at the heart of this event. Em Borey, a single mother from Cambodia, spoke of her struggle to cover debts, rent, and daily expenses after losing her job during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leni Oktira Sari, a seasoned worker from Indonesia with 13 years of experience at a major Nike shoe supplier, provided a vivid account of the ongoing struggles for fair wages, safe working conditions, and the lack of meaningful progress toward gender equality at her factory.

Sumi Akhter, a garment worker from Bangladesh with 14 years of experience, echoed these sentiments. She shared her experiences of verbal abuse, unending production pressure, and the fear of speaking out against injustice. The lockdown period added to their woes, as they received no wages for a month, then only 65% of their usual pay. Pooja, a worker from Sri Lanka, shared heart-wrenching experiences of being denied necessities and facing discrimination due to language barriers during the pandemic. Her statement was a poignant reminder of the lived reality of workers: “Nike talks about equality, but we see how you really treat your workers.”

Noah Dobin-Bernstein, Lead Organizer at Global Labor Justice, critiqued Nike’s public image. He highlighted the stark disparity between Nike’s multi-billion-dollar advertising campaigns promoting women’s empowerment and the reality of worker compensation. “A worker in a Sri Lankan factory that makes Nike clothing would have to work 2000 years to make a single month of the CEO’s compensation.”

The worker activists were joined by Elena Lopez, Senior Legislative Specialist from the Communications Workers of America, who talked about the growing support for Asian garment workers in the US labor movement. “We know that the fight for women workers’ equality in Asia is deeply connected to our fights,” she said.

The webinar called for Nike to investigate COVID wage claims, cease billionaire payouts until garment workers are repaid their lost wages, and transform their global supply chains. ‘Fight the Heist’ is an ongoing call to action against systemic injustice. It fights not just for fair wages but also for the respect and recognition workers deserve. Nike’s actions violate human rights, and it’s essential to hold them accountable.