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Midwest Today, January 1997

photo of Jordan


Apparently, even after you've made $170 million, it's hard to pass up $20 million more. Despite criticism for endorsing Nike products that are made by Third World slave laborers, Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan is continuing to shill for the company. It's not like he needs the money. Aside from his lucrative Bulls contract, his restaurants and an endlessly hyped Looney Toons movie, "Space Jam," Jordan has a number of multi-million dollar endorsements -- for beach towels, cologne, Hanes briefs, Farley's fruit snacks, Gatorade, Ray-o-Vac batteries, McDonald's Arch Deluxe, and a Spalding-Jordan basketball.

There are those who think maybe he shouldn't be on the cover of Gentleman's Quarterly as a "Man of the Year."

That's because Michael Jordan is among celebrities including Andre Agassi and Spike Lee, who as spokesmen for Nike, Inc. are helping its founder and CEO, Philip Knight, enlarge his estimated $4.6 billion fortune, on the backs of young Asians -- mostly women -- who literally work like slaves for pennies under hostile conditions to turn out Nike's products. And they help persuade young hero worshippers -- often impoverished ones -- to shell out up to $140 for a pair of status sneakers.

More than a third of Nike's products are manufactured in Indonesia, where human rights are virtually nonexistent, and where the minimum wage was deliberately set below the subsistence level so as to attract foreign investors. Workers at sweatshops with Nike contracts are paid only $2 a day. One study showed 88% are malnourished; some are as young as ten. The work day is up to 18 hours long.

As Human Rights Watch/Asia reported: "Indonesian workers lack the most basic of rights, the right to freedom of association. That right is restricted by the effective prohibition on unions, the constant interference of the military in labor negotiations, and the harassment, arrest, torture and even murder of labor organizers."

Nike also has goods made in China, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand. The New York Times reports that "The company's pattern of operations follows a very simple theme: as wages and living standards increase, Nike looks elsewhere. Every time the company has moved its operations from one country to another it has been to a place with a lower wage scale." Now Nike is moving into Vietnam, where the minimum wage amounts to $30 a month.

Although Nike's subcontractors actually hire the workers who make the products, the subcontractors obviously are under the influence of Nike and Knight.

Writer Bob Herbert observes, "Philip Knight has an extraordinary racket going for him. There is absolutely no better way to get rich than to exploit both the worker and the consumer. If you can get your product made for next to nothing, and get people to buy it at exorbitant prices, you get to live at the top of the pyramid."

While black unemployment in our own inner cities hovers near 50%, Michael Jordan thinks nothing of taking the $20 million Nike gives him to help create demand for its sweatshop-produced athletic shoes. And the merchandising of "Michael Mania" continues.

Jordan is quoted in the Times as saying, "I don't know the complete situation. Why should I? I'm trying to do my job. Hopefully, Nike will do the right thing."

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