The most valuable sports brands in the world have been criticized for their corporate practices, including labor exploitation and child labor
Since the 90’s, the debate of labor exploitation and child labor intensified after it was revealed that companies such as Nike and Adidas hired factories that did not meet minimum wage standards or that had children working in their facilities. While these companies have strived to reduce these practices, there is still a long way to achieve responsible production.
These companies and many more tend to hire factories in developing countries, where labor is cheaper and labor laws are more flexible. At the end, this allows lower production costs and if textile market domination is the goal, it becomes a necessary step for these companies. However, at what cost?
In April 2005, Nike was forced to reveal its production chain, which included 700 factories around the world. This happened as a result of the increasing pressure that the company faced due to the criticisms of labor and child exploitation. During this accountability, it was found that there were abuses of workers, physical and verbal, in 4 of the factories that provided them in Asia.
Although in 1992 the company had developed a code of conduct that rejected labor exploitation and had adhered to endless agreements in favor of human rights, in the year 2000, a documentary by the BBC proved that there were several faults to these commitments.
Among what the documentary showed, there were sexual abuses and children working tirelessly, which led Nike and the clothing company GAP to close their factories in Cambodia.
In 2014, at one of the Nike and Adidas production plants in China, it went on strike, after the workers claimed for better wages and social coverage. The Yue Yuen plant, which calls itself the largest footwear production factory in the world, would not pay their workers, owing them up to 3000 dollars of salary.
On the other hand, Adidas is not as transparent as its main competence, since the information of its production chain is not of public domain. In the same scandals that Nike has been criticized, Adidas has been involved, although it is the American company that receives the most criticism.
In 2015, Humans Right Watch made a report of one of the companies that supplies Adidas, located in Cambodia, which forces its workers to work beyond nine o'clock at night. The same report qualifies the working conditions in said factory as "slave owners".
What about now?
Currently, Nike uses 567 factories in 42 countries, employing a little more than 1 million workers in the process. 48% of these are located in China (24%), Vietnam (14%) and Indonesia (6%). Almost two decades passed until the US company approved a transparency plan, that allowed for closer monitoring of its production processes, as well as the reaffirmation of its social and environmental commitment.
Adidas moves in the same line, which seeks to make its production processes more sustainable, based on axes of protection for the environment and its workers. However, information about this plan is still not public. Moreover, the company states that it ensures that all its employees are compensated with salaries, benefits and compensation for their work.
Is it ethical?
The answer to the question is not that simple. While these companies try to be transparent with their production processes, it is clear that the garments produced in Asia are made under unfair conditions for the workers of the factories in addition to the salaries are still low.
It is the responsibility of the consumer to verify that what he/she buys comes from countries with humanitarian working conditions in order to stop contributing to labor exploitation.
In the Colombian case, citizens can be calm when buying the shirt of their national team as it is produced in a factory in Cali (Colombia). Buying local products is not only fighting against labor exploitation, it also means supporting national industries.
LatinAmerican Post | Iván Parada Hernández
Copy edited by Marcela Peñaloza