Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Corporate responsibility

"It's not easy being a consumer in the global economy. Moral dilemmas confront you at every turn. Was this pair of space-age Nike shoes produced in an Asian sweatshop? Dare I sheathe my feet in the product of modern-day slave labour? Should I boycott? Then again, who am I to pass judgment on the workplace norms of other people? "Exploitation" is a culturally relative concept, isn't it? Why do I have to deal with this now? Why don't those Asian governments enforce fair working conditions and leave me to frolic carefree through my local mall? And for crying out loud, why, if the labour is so cheap over there, do these Nike sneakers cost $200? ". (Source)

Nike has published a list of over 700 of its contract factories. According to Reuters "the list was a response to interest from trade unions and non-governmental organizations that want to see less secrecy in global manufacturing and to tackle health and safety issues". This makes the running shoe giant the first major apparel manufacturer to voluntarily disclose its entire supply chain.

From AP: "In the report released Wednesday, Nike acknowledges that factories with which it does business have harassed workers and forced some to work overtime. For years, activists have demanded that Nike and other major companies reveal where their contract factories are located, so that independent observers could assess their labour conditions. Corporations have been reluctant to do so, arguing that the plants are where the company's trade secrets are laid bare and advanced products could be leaked to rivals. Some Nike critics welcomed the disclosure of the supplier locations because it challenges others to do the same. "

Being the cynic that I am, I don't think that the Nike bosses woke up one morning with a sudden pang of bad conscience - looks more to me like the many anti-Nike campaigns have finally started bearing fruit. Either way, it's a good thing, the more transparency the better.

I don't consider myself to be a conspiracy theorist when it comes to the "evil" corporates. I just happen to think that as far as they're concerned, money is the bottom line and to hell with everything else like the environment, personal health in the case of big tobacco etc, and in many cases labour fairness. Usually corporations only act when they have to or are forced to by laws and regulations. I think it's becoming a lot less socially acceptable for big companies to behave with complete impunity as we see in the Nike example, a lot more attention is possibly being paid to being "good corporate citizens" - at least companies are trying to put on a socially responsible face, even though the reality may be quite different. We still have a long way to go and activists are fighting an uphill battle all the way.

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