Visit the PX
Nike's Dirty Little Secret to Success
In Vietnam, Nike's Air Jordan is more than just a status symbol
January-February 1997 Issue
By Ted Sampley
U.S. Veteran Dispatch
Last year's piggish profits made by Nike Corporation is a tell-all example of why so many of America's corporate giants rushed President Bill Clinton to prematurely remove the POW/MIA issue as an obstacle to normalized trade relations with communist Vietnam.
A close look at Nike, which is now sporting a "made in Vietnam" label, will reveal why so many corporate giants did not mind stomping on the POW/MIA issue during their furious campaign to promote business in communist Vietnam.
Since building its Vietnam factories, Nike's, "the hottest selling shoes in the world," sales rose 99 percent, allowing it to split its stocks, meaning huge profits for shareholders.
Immediately upon becoming president in 1993, Clinton responded to the lures of lobbyists and moved toward normalizing trade relations with Vietnam. Candidate Clinton had promised veterans and POW/MIA families he would never lift the embargo against Vietnam until Vietnam had produced an honest accounting of America's MIAs.
By July of 1995, Clinton had broken his promise and created a corporate frenzy in Vietnam by formally normalizing trade relations. Less than a year later, he had normalized diplomatic relations.
Recently uncovered White House documents show some corporations with profit motivated interests in Vietnam donated heavily to the Democrat National Committee beginning as early as Clinton's first presidential campaign.
The founder and chief executive of Nike, Inc., Philip H. Knight, who owns Nike stock valued at $4.5 billion, has demonstrated the effectiveness of his simple and unmerciful equation for making billions fast -- create a faddish demand for a product by spending tens of millions of dollars for endorsements by popular U.S. athletes and keep the manufacturing in poor third world countries where workers are paid pennies and are not protected by labor laws. Profits made from Nike in such third world sweatshops have made Knight the sixth richest man in America.
Most of the 25,000 workers in "Nike Town," Vietnam are women and children who are paid .20 cent an hour and work 70 hours a week making Nikes in unhealthy environments that reek of glue. They have no insurance or retirement security and some are forced to produce a quota of 11 pairs of shoes each day before they are allowed to go home and are not fully paid for the extra hours.
The long, grueling hours are often accompanied with beatings and humiliation for underproducing or poor workmanship. Supervisors often "discipline" for such minor infractions as talking during working hours. In one recently reported incident, 45 workers were made to kneel for 25 minutes with their arms in the air. In another incident, a supervisor used a Nike shoe to beat several women in retaliation for some poor sewing.
The U.S./Vietnam Trade Council, a powerful lobby funded by corporate interests, displayed no conscience about America's missing servicemen, child labor or sweatshops. During its aggressive and expensive public relations campaign to remove the trade embargo against Vietnam, the Trade Council boldly claimed "no compelling evidence" exists proving any American servicemen remain captive of the Vietnamese.
Omitted from the Trade Council's barrage of "it's time to do business with Hanoi" press releases was the Jan. 1993 conclusion of an 18 month study conducted by the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. The Select Committee determined that communist Vietnam continued to hold in captivity an unspecified number of live POWs after the reported release of "all" U.S. prisoners during Operation Homecoming in 1973.
The Trade Council wordsmithed the Senate Select Committee's report's conclusion to read "Senate Committee finds no proof that U.S. POWs survived." Journalists and columnists of the establishment press eagerly gobbled up that convenient interpretation.
Rather than demanding that Hanoi explain what happened to the U.S. prisoners who "were left behind," most in the press chose instead to chastise the POW/MIA families and activists for refusing to put Vietnam behind them. Columnists warned Clinton that unless he acted soon to remove the embargo, U.S. business interests would "fall far behind other nations" already doing business in Vietnam.
Nikes sell for as much $150.00 a pair and are in great demand. Police authorities claim the lust for such expensive status symbols often drives inner city youths to commit crimes.
Michael Jordan, who earns millions playing basketball, was paid $20 million by Knight to promote Nike's Air Jordan sneakers. Ironically Jordan's endorsement fee is more than all the Vietnamese workers in the entire industry of Nike earn in a year.
When questioned about his affiliation with Nike and its use of sweat shop labor, Jordan answered, "I don't know the complete situation. Why Should I? I'm trying to do my job. Hopefully, Nike will do the right thing, whatever that might be."
The right thing? Is stomping on America's missing servicemen to get rich by exploiting disadvantaged people in third world countries the right thing to do? The American public addressed that issue more than 60 years ago when the United States banned child labor, sweatshops, long workdays and workweeks. Whether or not America cares about its missing servicemen is a different story.