Cicih Sukaesih's North America Nike tour


Years: 1996 & 1997

Type: Factory worker speaker tour

Speaker: Cicih Sukaesih

Tour sponsors: Global Exchange, Working Group on Nike, Press 4 Change, Campaign For Labor Rights (now Alliance for Global Justice), Canadian Auto Workers, Operation PUSH, Jobs for Justice, Amnesty International, Frontlash (a branch of the AFL-CIO), Alberta Federation of Labor

Availability: free on YouTube here.

Page reference: Fanshawe, A., Dufresne, L., Nicholson, F., Perkins, J., Cator, O. & Beere, C. (2017) Cicih Sukaesih's North America Nike tour. ( last accessed <insert date here>)


I would like to say to the American people, especially those who want to buy Nike tennis-shoes, to think first before you buy about the conditions under which those shoes are made (Source: Sukaesih in Anon 1996a, np).

These sneakers really stink. [One] woman shames Nike and crosses the Jordan. … [Cicih Suhaesih’s] story is the invisible face of the brilliantly marketed shoes and gear. Nike manufactures nothing but searches the globe for the lowest possible production costs. Follow the swoosh to the most desperate people in the world (Source: Dwyer 1996, np link).

Thirty-three-year-old Cicih Sukaesih didn't set out to be a thorn in the side of sports star Michael Jordan. But in her own small way, the Indonesian worker is turning out to be just that. U.S. labor activists and Ms. Sukaesih … say they won't ease their pressure on Mr. Jordan until the athletic footwear company takes steps to improve labor conditions at Southeast Asian factories where it pumps out millions of dollars worth of sneakers each year. … Ms. Sukaesih initiated a two-week tour of the United States with stops in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco. At a meeting hosted by the AFL-CIO headquarters [in Washington] , Ms. Sukaesih said she hopes to meet with Nike officials and Mr. Jordan to discuss his role as a Nike sponsor. … Human rights and labor activists, who are financing Ms. Sukaesih's trip, are urging consumers to send Mr. Jordan a form letter they have prepared. The letter asks him to use his celebrity position to pressure Nike about stemming child labor in its factories. It also calls on Nike to rehire Ms. Sukaesih and more than 60 other workers who were fired after protesting abusive conditions in the factories of Nike's contractors. Mr. Jordan has been been through the publicity mill over the past month for pulling down a $20 million promotion contract from Nike, while Asian workers making the footwear are only paid about 30 cents a hour (Source: Green 1996, np).

‘We have tried to contact (Jordan) and so far he has not shown the slightest interest,’ [Sukaesih] said. ‘I would like him to do the same thing Kathie Lee Gifford has done, which is to take responsibility for the conditions of the workers that make the products that they endorse and promote.’ Jordan's contract with Nike reportedly is worth around $20 million. The basketball shoes at Nike Town sell for between $70 to $140. ‘I was really upset when I discovered how much Michael Jordan was being paid for his endorsements and when I saw how much Nike shoes cost here,’ Sukaesih said. Nike has also received criticism for reportedly using child labor to produce soccer balls in Pakistan. … Sukaesih said she hopes to bring her message to all American consumers. ‘I would like to say to the American people, especially those who want to buy Nike tennis-shoes, to think first before you buy about the conditions under which those shoes are made’ (Source: Anon 1996a, np).

… in May 1996, .. Cicih Sukaesih … [visited] … North America for a 3 week tour. At each city, Cicih described wages and working conditions in the factory where she had worked (Source: Sage 1999, 219).

In city after city she visited, Sukaesih visited a Nike Town accompanied by a crowd of protestors with signs such as ‘Just Do It: Stomp on Workers Rights’ (Source: Danaher & Mark 2003, 75 link).

Today Cicih Sukaesih … will stand at the massive new Niketown store on 57th St. and Madison Ave. to report that Nike all but starves Indonesians to make its expensive sneakers. . . . Tomorrow she goes to Chicago to ask Michael Jordan, the genial Pontius Pilate of American sports, to speak up for the people who make the shoes that have made him millions. ‘He is the person in Nike’s advertisements’, says Sukaesih. ‘I don’t remember the text, but I saw his picture wearing Nike shoes’. Next week she brings the slingshot of truth to the Portland, Ore., headquarters of Nike, the world’s wealthiest shoe and sporting goods maker. ‘I just want to tell my story to the owner of the CEOs of Nike here in the states’, says Sukaesih (Source: Dwyer 1996, np link).

The rally for Cicih at Chicago’s Nike Town featured a strong contingent of Union Summer activists who roared out chants they had prepared. During her Chicago visit, someone showed Cicih a Nike poster: ‘Go ahead,’ the poster proclaimed, ‘demand a raise. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.’ She assumed that the poster had been printed by someone in support of Nike workers. Amazed when the truth was explained to her, she said, ‘They would NEVER say that on their ads in Indonesia. There, they just put the name, Nike, and the picture of the sports star. There is no text in the Indonesian ads. When we worked in the factory, we thought `Just do it!’ meant: ‘Work harder and don’t question authority.’ (Source: Boycott Nike 2001, np link).

Sukaesih spoke Monday outside Nike Town, a shoe store in Chicago's ritzy Michigan Avenue shopping district, accusing Nike of subcontracting with Southeast Asian companies that pay workers barely $2 per day and subject employees to harsh working conditions. ‘We work under very difficult conditions ... and we're paid a very, very low wage,’ Sukaesih said through interpreter Jeffrey Winters, a Northwestern University professor who helped organize her appearance. ‘The wage is not enough for us to live on' (Source: Anon 1996a, np).

While in Chicago Cicih sought to meet with Chicago Bulls basketball star Michael Jordan: he was unavailable (Source: Shaw 1999, 40 link).

The first time she saw what a pair of Nikes sell for at a Foot Locker in Washington DC, [Cicih] was stunned by the $120 price. ‘That’s more than two months of my salary,’ she said. ‘Why are these shoes so expensive? I have never tried on the shoes, after all my time at Nike.’ Global Exchange bought her a pair of Nikes and, in an emotional scene, she donned them for the first time. [Her] shock at the price of the shoes revealed, in a single expression, the injustice the activists were trying to illustrate (Source: Danaher & Mark 2003, 75 link).

My first thought, as I held those shoes in my hands, was pride at how well-made they were and that I had a part in making such fine shoes. And then I put them on my feet. They felt so good! Four years I worked in the factory, and until now I never had a pair of Nikes on my feet. We could not even think of buying them at the wages we received. And then I was very sad when I thought of the conditions under which they are made. And angry.’ To purchase a pair of the shoes she makes, a Nike worker would have to devote every penny from two to three months of her paychecks (Source: Sukeasih in BBC 2017, np link).

[In Portland, Global Exchange’s Medea] Benjamin and Sukaesih were not dissuaded by their adversary [Nike]’s intransigence. They began their day … by visiting Niketown so that Cicih could inspect and try on shoes (Source: Shaw 1999, 41 link).

Protesters carried signs denouncing Nike's use of child labor and low wages in developing countries. Before speaking to protesters, Sukaesih ventured inside Nike Town with her interpreter, trying on a $75, size-7 pair of white and blue tennis shoes. ‘I thought I looked very distinguished in them,’ Sukaesih said through the interpreter, Saraswati Sunindro. ‘But there's no way I could afford to buy a pair’ (Source: Hall 1996, np).

This seemingly innocent conduct led to their immediate removal from the store by Nike security (Source: Shaw 1999, 41 link).

[These store visits sent] Nike public relations staff and hired security guards into a tizzy, whispering into walkie-talkies (Source: Bullert 2000, 11 link).

[Benjamin and Sukaesih] then proceeded to Nike headquarters in an effort to discuss Cicih’s story with [Nike CEO] Phil Knight. The resulting episode further proved Portland activist Max White’s point that ‘Nike is a genius at advertising, not public relations.’ Nike treated the activists like alien space invaders trying to break into the earth’s stratosphere. Nike security staff with radio transmitters verbally monitored the two women’s progress as they approached the grand lobby at the center of the Nike compound. Upon their reaching the lobby a guard picked up his phone and said, ‘They’re here.’ It was a hot July morning in Portland and Cicih and Benjamin were thirsty after their long walk. When they reached for water glasses that Nike maintained in the lobby for its visitors and began pouring water, a guard grabbed the glasses away, claiming they were private property (Source: Shaw 1999, 41 link).

Knight refused to meet with them. ... [Benjamin and Sukaesih] told Nike they had plenty of time and they would wait. Nike staff found this response unacceptable and told Benjamin that they were calling the police (Source: Shaw 1999, 41 link).

Within hours of her effort this week to enter the headquarters of the Nike shoe manufacturers in Oregon, Sukaesih set off a public relations storm that could force the conglomerate to approve independent monitoring of its overseas subcontractors. (Source: Haq 1996, np link).

… during her stay in America, Cicih managed to tell her story to thousands of teenagers and students many of whom vowed to ‘the company. But that was something she herself struggled with.  ‘In fact, it was confusing. I didn’t want to promote a boycott because that would mean people would stop buying the shoes and the company would close in Indonesia. I worried that it would lead to many unemployed workers in Indonesia. I thought the important thing was to keep the company but to make sure they applied the code of conduct which meant paying a decent wage’ (Source: BBC 2017, np link).

Sukaesih’s US tour is being sponsored by a coalition called the Working Group on Nike. It is demanding that Nike allow independent monitoring of its factories by Indonesian human rights groups, that Nike allow workers to organise free trade unions in its factories, that workers be paid a living wage and that Nike stop using child labour. The coalition is planning monthly North America-wide pickets of Nike retail outlets beginning September 14th (Source: Dixon 1996, np link).

[Sukaesih] was not only in the US, but also in Canada. She made two trips actually … She was very well received up there. Lots of unions hosted her for talks and the media by and large was good (Source: Ballinger in Fanshawe 2017, np).

This is Cicih’s second speaking tour in North America. Last year, she made a number of appearances in the United States during a tour organized and funded by Global Exchange. The primary emphasis on that tour was on reaching as much of the public as possible, through direct appearances and via media coverage. That goal also is part of this year’s tour. However, the central focus of this year’s tour is to promote ongoing alliances with unions and community-based groups. Throughout this tour, Campaign for Labor Rights will be holding discussions with union leaders, to see what can be done to forge a massive network of unions (locals and higher structures) who can provide active, ongoing participation in the Nike campaign and other international and domestic labor struggles (Source: Anon nd, np link).

Vancouver was the first stop in Ms. Sukaesih's cross-Canada speaking tour, sponsored by the Canadian Auto Workers Union. She met with labour leaders and led a protest outside of the downtown Nike Store, where she spoke with the manager about sneaker makers in Indonesia. ‘I want people to think about what they buy and who made it and under what conditions it was made,’ Ms. Sukaesih told me. ‘I dream about a time when we network - the workers in the Third World and in Canada and the U.S., so that we all know what is happening. This is the first step and I'm very happy.’ Today, she was to be in Toronto, accompanied by U.S. labour activists Trim Bissell and Jeff Ballinger. … Ms. Sukaesih is hopeful the Nike PR department is underestimating the true depth of public concern. ‘I really believe that this tour will give Nike a lesson,’ she told the crowd in Vancouver, ‘and one of the lessons is that it's not only me looking for justice, it's all of you people all over the world who are still looking for justice’ (Source: Klein 1997, np link).

Sukaesih said she would take her old job back, but only if she and the other fired workers received back pay and better working conditions. ‘I would love to go back, as long as they know that we are heroes for labor,’ she said (Source: Hall 1996, np).

Inspiration / Process / Technique / Methodology

In the anti-Nike sweatshop awareness campaign, grass-roots activists and NGOs working with savvy media practitioners have successfully subverted corporate public relations campaigns 3 for a fraction of the corporate budget, muted the impact of saturation advertising, and challenged routine pro-company coverage in the press. By subverting symbols, and with the active cooperation of some reporters and columnists, the Nike ‘swoosh’ is recast for the public as the Nike ‘swooshtika,’ and Michael Jordan who signed a $20 million multi-year endorsement deal with Nike, has been tagged the ‘Pontius Pilate of American sports’ (Source: Bullert 2000, 2-3 link).

Activists have framed the sweatshop issue to their contemporaries in terms of individual consumer choice - a mark of personal identity politics – and put their creativity to work by staging ‘Sweatshop Fashion Shows’ at Nike Towns, GAP stores, and Abercombie and Fitch. They make political protest fun, and want to make it irresistible to consumers and their peers (Source: Bullert 2000, 3 link).

Jesse Jackson, the U.S. civil rights leader, is also pushing Mr. Jordan and other athletic stars to play more active roles in the debate on labor rights. During a recent visit to Asia, Mr. Jackson publicized the need for an overall improvement in working conditions in Asia, the location of many manufacturing subcontractors used by U.S. companies (Source: Green 1996, np).

Every social movement needs a visible villain, especially when working with the news media, and the anti-sweatshop activists couldn’t have asked for a better one than Phil Knight, the founder and CEO of the largest sports-shoe business in the world, Nike. The company, founded in 1964, contracts with manufacturers in Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Taiwan and elsewhere, and its history exemplifies the broader economic changes in the late 1960s when U.S. based companies began to shift their production outside the country attracted by lower labor costs and the promise of higher profits. … Phil Knight, the billionaire who cultivated a hip image, proved a visible target for antisweatshop activists. With its high-profile in the media presence through its ‘Just Do It’ advertising slogan, high-priced athlete endorsements, the openings of Niketown mega-stores around the country, and the increasing, ubiquitous presence of ‘the Swoosh’ on clothing and on college campuses, activists could build a campaign around Nike subverting the advertising and marketing that have become Nike’s hallmark in popular culture. The hooks were obvious. Consumers can ask: if a pair of Nike Air Jordans retailed for $130, but cost a fraction of that to make, aren’t they overpriced? Where does the rest of the money go? Employees in factories producing the shoes can ask: if the shoes sell for so much more than they cost to make, why can’t the company pay at least a living wage and provide decent, safe working conditions? How about an extra dollar a day (Source: Bullert 2000, 5-6 link).

Between 1989 and 1995, only 21 news articles appeared in the U.S. press linking Nike to strikes in Indonesia, but 1996 was a pivotal year in the anti-sweatshop campaign. Seven years of survey research, international studies on globalization and human rights and organizing by NGOs came to fruition. ... Behind every media event lies the people who make it happen: journalists, sources, and in these cases, politically committed publicists working in the non-profit sector. In 1996, two key connections transformed the anti-sweatshop campaign. First, Jeff Ballinger of Press for Change hooked up with Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based non-profit dedicated to human rights and promoting socially responsible businesses. With its own internal public relations person, Tony Newman, Global Exchange transformed a simmering issue into a hot news story. As Ballinger described it, ‘Global Exchange turned my rundown, VW bus of a campaign into an 18-wheeler.’ Second, the National Labor Committee headed by Charles Kernaghan listened to the media savvy Ellen Braune who helped him see the logic in launching a campaign on a morning talk-show host who lent her name to discount clothing made in maquiladoras. When Kathie Lee Gifford cried on her morning talk show sobbing that she ‘didn’t know’ her clothes were made by teenage girls working 14 and 16 hour days in Honduras, the sweatshop issue burst into the living rooms of TV-watching America. Charles Kernaghan, tagged ‘the guy who made Kathie Lee cry,’ used the media exposure to tell the listening and viewing publics about the poorly paid workers who worked long hours for little money. In his routine before live audiences, television cameras and still photographers, the former psychology professor would hold up a garment, read the label identifying where it was made, and then the retail price. Like a dealer on the Antique Roadshow his audience frequently gasped when told the items they bought for $24.95 only cost only $1.00 to manufacture in labor and materials in the export zones of Latin America.17 Then he would explain the work day of a typical teenage girl, and if she were present with him, she’d describe the conditions herself through a translator (Source: Bullert 2000, 6-7 link).

The effective collaboration between Ballinger and Global Exchange shows how media relations can give legs to research, and effectively shape the press framing of a social issue. The selection of visually compelling and contrasting characters who spoke out against sweatshop conditions in the apparel and shoe industries resulted from the combined efforts of long time activists who had been tracking the issue and compiling data years before they joined forces with media relations professionals. Based on the accessible research of the long-timers, these media professionals then honed the messages, arranged media events, coordinated publicity, and created the highly visual and dramatic media events that the anti-sweatshop campaign lacked earlier. This was a crucial turning point. Its success can be measured in its ‘media bounty,’ how the issue of sweatshops became an on-going story long after the initial ‘media hits,’ and the organized activism and proposals for reform that followed. Jeff Ballinger is a one person non-governmental organization. A former textile union organizer, a lawyer, and human and labor rights advocate, Ballinger spent nearly four years in Indonesia monitoring working conditions and wage compliance at factories producing goods for transnational corporations. Among the factories in Indonesia where sports shoes carried the labels of Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Bata and others, Ballinger discovered that factories producing Nike shoes had the most violations and among the lowest wages. Ballinger lit the first match in the mainstream American media based on his wage survey at Nike plants in Indonesia (Source: Bullert 2000, 7-8 link).

I was able to get grants from USAID and the first grant was about $25,000 and we surveyed compliance with the minimum wage, in I think ‘89, in 70 factories around Jakarta. We found that even when the minimum wage was under $1 a day there was cheating going on and most of the cheating were these shoe factories run by Koreans for Nike and the other big brands, so that drew a lot of attention. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised that the Indonesian media, even in a very repressive, authoritarian era were writing about strikes, wage cheating and a lot of related stories. I would guess 100 stories if you took the Indonesian press over like a two year period. Because I guess it seemed okay in the government’s eyes to agitate for higher wages … I mean there was only one instance where an organiser was killed in Indonesia and it was generally peaceful, you know the police might be there and push them back in the factory but it wasn’t like you had a well organised blacklist and very repressive methods….I never thought I would get another nickel from USAID because Nike complained bitterly to the local AID people in our Jakarta embassy saying ‘Why are you funding this guy who is making us look bad?’ And so instead of cutting me off they gave me like $600,000 to do a much bigger survey, a huge survey, we interviewed upwards of 160’000 Indonesian workers. Now think about that, that’s like 200 or 300 factories, that meant in a factory of like 600 or a 1000 we interviewed like 80 or 100. If you wanted to get a snapshot of what was going on you could interview 5 or 6 workers and you would know, but if you interviewed 100 workers then they would start to talk amongst themselves and some expectations would begin, ‘will these surveyors take these results and beat our boss over the head with it and try and improve our conditions?’ No that wasn’t part of the program but then they did it themselves. They did it themselves. They probably didn’t know they were supposed to get maternity leave or, you know, 4 days off for this or that but they learnt because all these things were in the survey. This was like a basic legal literacy campaign more than anything, we collected lots of good information, but the important thing was the number of strikes quadrupled. … they knew others were striking and they knew it was effective (Source: Ballinger in Fanshawe 2017, np).

Medea Benjamin, then the executive director of Global Exchange, heard Ballinger on Pacifica radio discussing the situation of Nike workers like ... Cicih Sukaesih (SuKAY-zee), but she was already primed to do something on the Indonesian situation. ‘I felt like `here’s this guy with all this information, and how come we haven’t heard about this?’ Benjamin told me. She phoned him to find out more and to see if Global Exchange could help and the strategizing for a high-profile, newsworthy event linking grass-roots groups in 5 cities around the country began. Within two months, Global Exchange had raised the funds to bring the fired Nike worker to the U.S. on a 5-city tour, July 15 to July 27, and do the necessary outreach to the press and public. ‘We charged the universities an honorarium so we knew all we had to do was pay for the plane fare, and we’d get reimbursed for the whole thing. So it was just having the organizational capacity to make it happen. We didn’t have to put up more than $1,500 in airfare’ (Source: Bullert 2000, 9-10 link).

Also involved in the protest and in funding Sukaesih's American tour are … Operation PUSH, Jobs for Justice, Amnesty International and Frontlash, a branch of the AFL-CIO. ‘Amnesty (International) has been concerned with the Indonesian situation for some time,’ said Midwest Deputy Director Michael Heflin. ‘(The country) has a history of horrific human rights' violations.’ He said the companies who contract there are aware of the violations. ‘What we see is sort of a collusion between the Indonesian government and the companies. The company is often allowed to, sort of, keep its hands clean,’ Heflin said. ‘We're saying with that profit comes some responsibility’ (Source: Anon 1996a, np).

The Canadian portion of the tour is being generously funded by a major grant from the Canadian Auto Workers Social Justice Fund, with additional funding from the Alberta Federation of Labor. The tour is organized by Campaign for Labor Rights and Press for Change (Source: Anon nd, np link).

Fanshawe: Why was Cicih the one selected to come to America? Ballinger: I think it’s probably because of the local NGO I was working with, they did this training for women workers on Sundays, because it was their only day off. And so I think she was a regular participant so was more articulate and conversant in the issues than some of the others. She also had a very compelling story [and] she wasn’t working, she had lost her job and so she was available and only doing odd jobs for that NGO, so she became the natural choice. She was a leader in as much as she put the original strike together but in addition to that she was also articulate on the issues the workers faced (Source: Fanshawe 2017, np).

Cicih Sukaesih didn’t recognise [Phil Knight’s] image of Nike as the good citizen. So when, in 1996, an American NGO – [Ballinger’s] Press 4 Change – invited her to visit America and tell Phil Knight personally, she agreed immediately. ‘I was very proud to be able to go to America. I wanted to speak to the owner of Nike, Phil Knight, and tell him about the low wages for Nike workers in Indonesia. Maybe he didn’t know the conditions of his workers in Indonesia’ (Source: BBC 2017, np link).

Sukaesih joined a factory that Nike had contracted with in 1989, when shoe manufacturing was growing enormously in Indonesia. For many years it had been based in South Korea and Taiwan, but with the rise of democratic societies, labor costs increased. The production of sport shoes moved to Indonesia (Source: Dwyer 1996, np link).

My job was to glue the sole of the shoe onto the trainer. … It was very tiring. It was very boring. … The bosses forced us to do overtime, we were constantly pushed to make targets. … We didn’t have time to have a break. Even if we wanted to take a pee, it was not allowed. Some of us would pee under the machine. … Our supervisor would say ‘Hi monkey!’ and other insulting language. Some women were also sexually abused. The bosses would touch and grab them inappropriately. It was very upsetting and disturbing to see (Source: Sukeasih in BBC 2017, np link).

[The] supervisors would beat and yell at workers to make them work faster and refuse to let them go to the toilet. They were paid below the government minimum wage and forced to do unpaid overtime (Source: BBC 2017, np link).

So there were sporadic strikes throughout the late 80’s early 90’s and I would say Cicih’s kind of came as one of the first of the big strike wave, just after our surveying (Source: Ballinger in Fanshawe 2017, np).

I had enough, I was annoyed. I decided to see if any of my friends had the same idea. We agreed to organise a strike. … We had to plan in secret. We first spoke about it during a work outing. It was for a religious festival so it gave us an excuse to talk to each other freely. Back in 1992, there was no other way to communicate secretly. We had no mobile phones. So I am very proud that I managed to convince all 6,500 workers to strike. 90% of those were women. We all agreed to go on strike (Source: Sukeasih in BBC 2017, np link).

There were 23 workers that organised the strike because they weren’t getting even the minimum wage in this Nike supplier factory and then the local police handed the factory management a list of their names having done an investigation, so they were all fired. It was a huge factory. These factories are more than 12,000 workers so a strike was a serious undertaking, and they took some risk to do it (Source: Ballinger in Fanshawe 2017, np).

The workers won a pay increase and free meals, but a month later Sukaesih was detained and interrogated by police and later she and 24 others were sacked (Source: Sukeasih in BBC 2017, np link).

... they were fired as scapegoats (Source: Dwyer 1996, np link).

Cicih was taken into the police station for two full days of interrogation about her labor activities. Before police began to question her, she waited outside a room where a suspected petty criminal was being tortured. She could plainly hear his screams and then saw the man being dragged away. Then she was led into the room and told to sit in the bloody chair where the victim had been tortured.  Her experience follows the pattern of recent years, a pattern which continues to this day. Previously, the Indonesian government physically tortured student activists and unionists. However, pressure from international human rights groups such as Amnesty International caused the authorities to modify their practices. Now they physically torture suspected common criminals, who are unlikely to receive international attention, in order to inflict psychological torture on higher profile figures (Source: Anon nd, np link).

[Sukaesih] and other workers contested the action and the case has been winding its way through administrative panels and the court system since then. It is now before the Supreme Court in Indonesia (Source: Green 1996, np).

As a Nike ad says: ‘There's really no time to be afraid. So stop. Try something you've never tried. Risk it. Demand a raise.’ Of course, that was an ad published in Western markets where people actually could afford to fantasize about those things. That impulse didn't work out too well for Sukaesih and 23 of her colleagues after the strike. ... They took a case to an Indonesian labor panel and won. The labor minister overturned the decision (Source: Dwyer 1996, np link).

At the time, Nike made some of the world’s most popular shoes with sales worth nine billion dollars a year. It’s logo commanded people to ‘Just Do It’. Cicih had no idea that the shoes she made could sell for more than a hundred dollars a pair. When she found out, she was horrified (Source: BBC 2017, np link).

Global Exchange had its own internal public relations wizard: Tony Newman, a graduate from University of California at Santa Cruz, an enthusiastic, smart redhead, then in his twenties earning a typical non-profit salary of about $22,000 a year. Newman knew how to position the story, and set about laying the groundwork for [Cicih’s] summer tour. Newman interested New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, in an interview with Sukaesih prior to her arrival in the U.S., and his column, ‘Trampled Dreams,’ appeared on July 12, 1996, just in time for Sukaesih’s trip. Herbert explained how this 32-year-old shoe worker was fired with 23 others for helping organize a walk-out of 600 workers who were demanding that their employers pay them the Indonesian minimum wage which was then $1.30 a day, instead of about a dollar a day they were earning (Source: Bullert 2000, 10 link).

[In these newspaper interviews Cicih Sukaesih] was ‘portrayed as a ‘short’, ‘small-boned’, ‘unemployed’ Indonesian woman worker who had been fired in 1992 for organizing strikes against the South Korean factory owners and had since been blacklisted (Source: Xiaolan 2010, 140 link).

Ask Cicih Sukaesih about her dreams and you will hear a long, long silence. She has none. In Indonesia, a woman who is 32 years old, unmarried, broke and unemployed keeps her thoughts focused on the short term. Each day is an emergency. Ms. Sukaesih used to earn about a dollar a day working in a factory that made athletic shoes for one of the world's premier marketers of dreams, Nike Inc. It wasn't much of a living. A study of women in similar circumstances in 1989 had shown that 88 percent were malnourished. In 1991 the legally required minimum wage was raised to a dazzling $1.25 a day. But the operators of the Sung Hwa Dunia factory in Serang, West Java, where Ms. Sukaesih worked, refused to pay it. The staggering wealth of the big shots at the top of Nike's pyramid depends on the laborers at the bottom being paid next to nothing. This time the laborers balked. Six hundred workers who were barely earning enough to feed themselves walked out of the Sung Hwa Dunia plant. The police and the military, trained to suppress labor unrest, were quickly alerted. Investigations were begun. The 600 workers walked back in. Still, an example had to be made. In January 1992, Ms. Sukaesih and 23 others who had dared to demand that their employers pay the minimum wage were dismissed. I talked with Ms. Sukaesih by phone Wednesday night. Speaking through an interpreter, she described the working conditions in the factory. ‘We were not treated with respect,’ she said. ‘Many of the supervisors were from Korea. They yelled at us. There were some that liked to hit people, slap people. There were some who would kick the Muslim workers when they were praying during their lunch break. The factory has since been taken over by different operators (also under contract to Nike) and the name has been changed to Eltri Indo Footwear. The abusive practices reportedly have ceased and the minimum wage, now a little over $2 a day, is being paid. But Ms. Sukaesih and her co-workers have not been rehired. They have sued and their case is now languishing before the Indonesian supreme court (Source: Herbert 1996, np link).

Ms. Sukaesih has no money of her own and her prospects are dim. She is already considered old for factory work. ‘They want young girls,’ she said. ‘At my age you have to pay a bribe to a security guard just to apply for a job.’ Meanwhile, the women who are working are only marginally better off than Ms. Sukaesih. There is a widely held notion - and Philip Knight, Nike's chief executive officer, does nothing to discourage it - that minimum-wage workers in Indonesia are paid enough to live reasonably comfortable lives. That is not so. Many of the working women live in bamboo or tin dwellings with no running water and nothing in the way of appliances. Apong Herlina, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Institute, tells the heartbreaking story of women from the countryside who have come to the cities for work but do not earn enough to have their children with them. The children remain in the country, being cared for by relatives. ‘These women work a tremendous amount,’ Ms. Herlina said, ‘but there is not enough money for transportation or time to travel the long distances to visit their children. They see them once a year, during holiday. The rest of the year they grieve.’ Dreams fade into nothingness in the long, grim hours in the factories. The workers who live with their children face a struggle each day just to feed them. And then it's back to work in the shadow of the Nike ‘Swoosh’ (Source: Herbert 1996, np link).

After speaking to Cicih, Herbert spoke with Phil Knight. Knight stated that Indonesians were lining up to work in factories making Nikes, and said that ‘it would wreck the country’s economy if wages were allowed to get too high.’ Herbert made Cicih a celebrity even before her arrival and his column no doubt contributed to Nike’s sudden openness to its need for reform (Source: Shaw 1999, 39 link).

Discussion / Responses

I have visited many rural communities in the Third World and know how miserable life is for most of the residents of those communities. A job assembling shoes for Nike would certainly be an improvement. Wages vary around the world depending on the economy of each country. Capitalists are going to use their power of movement to follow low wages around the world.  But in plain fairness, workers must have ‘freedom of association’ to organize unions or any other type of organization to protect their rights and bargain for them collectively. It was because they were trying to organize workers in support of a strike for better wages that Cicih Sukaesih (who recently held a press conference here in Washington) and 23 other workers were fired by a Nike contractor in 1992. … the case is before the Indonesian Supreme Court. Because monitors hired by the manufacturer are likely to be blind to human rights and labor rights violations that will cost their bosses money to rectify, independent local human rights groups should be able to monitor the factories. These are the demands of consumer, labor, religious and Third World solidarity groups (such as ours) that are focusing on world labor issues in ever greater numbers. Americans are not against poor people in the Third World having jobs that will raise them ever so slightly out of grinding poverty. But those workers should not be young children, they should not be mistreated, and they should be able to organize to defend their own rights and demand what they believe is a just wage. Nike should not have a quarrel with this (Source: Hoyt 1996, np).

Nike could have offered Cicih a high paying job on the spot. But Nike took none of these preemptive actions either because of its arrogance or, more likely because of Phil Knight’s strong dislike for what he had already described as the ‘terrorist tactics’ of Benjamin and Global Exchange (Source: Shaw 1999, 41 link).

Global Exchange and Press For Change … asked for, and were refused, a meeting with Nike. ‘We prefer to engage in dialogue with groups who are interested in constructive, proactive solutions, not those who inform us of their intentions through news conferences and mean-spirited media campaigns,’ Nike told its employees in a memo. Jeff Ballinger, director of Press For Change, said an independent agency is needed to ensure that workers are treated properly and paid fairly, instead of the auditing firm Nike currently uses. Ballinger said Nike only trickles out favorable information, calling the company's efforts to enforce labor rules ‘a sham’ (Source: Hall 1996, np).

… global corporations [like Nike] do not [directly] inflict the harsh treatment or prevent unionization. They merely encourage such violence by investing capital where such conditions bring them the best returns (Source: Pilisuk & Tennant 1997, 25+ link).

Despite … growing awareness, … many still react to news of Nike's labour practices as if they just found out about a shoddily made electrical appliance. ‘So don't buy Nikes,’ they say, casting the issue as a personal matter of conscience which we are all free to quietly act upon but, for god's sake, not in public. Others immediately want to know what brands are okay to buy. When they find out that there are few big name brands made without sweatshop labour, they throw up their hands and pronounce the entire exercise futile. It seems we have become so self-identified as consumers that we expect everything to be solved through our shopping habits. The situation of workers like Ms. Sukaesih is not a matter between an individual and their mall, it's a human rights issue and a public policy matter for us to address not just as shoppers, but as citizens. The limits of the narrow consumer activist model revealed themselves last month when U.S. President Bill Clinton's task force on sweatshops - of which Nike was a member - made its camera-friendly announcements. It turns out that all corporations will need to do to earn a ‘No Sweat’ label on their garments is abide by each country's legal minimum wage - even when it is well below poverty levels. In other words, slap a feel-good tag on it and send it to the mall. The desire for guilt-free shopping is far easier for the spin doctors at Nike to handle than a politicized public's demands for real justice. Which is why, if we truly object to corporations scouring the globe for the most exploitable work force, we shouldn't just switch brands. We should devote ourselves to opposing the further deregulation of world markets and attacking … [Prime Minister] Chretien[‘s] government [in Canada] for abandoning human rights as a basis for foreign policy. We should also bombard Nike CEO Philip Knight with postcards and petitions telling him that when minimum wage isn't enough to stave off malnutrition, paying minimum wage is a cause for shame -- not pride. Most of all, we should do all of this so publicly that thinking people everywhere begin to push their Nike-logo-festooned T-shirts and caps to the backs of their closets like last year's bad idea (Source: Klein 1997, np link).

It's been my pleasure to work with Ms. Cicih Sukaesih for nine years. She is truly an inspiration and she certainly deserves recognition as a no-nonsense fighter for economic justice. Far too many workers have walked away from disputes with Nike contractors in Indonesia, eschewing the difficult course of continued resistance to exploitation. It is hard to blame them, however. Taking a case to the labor courts in Indonesia is usually viewed with disdain [as] a waste of time. Workers also have an understandable trepidation about challenging authority We should all be thankful that young women such as Cicih have the determination to keep plugging away (Source: Ballinger in Sukaesih 2001, 38+ link).

How much would you pay them (Source: Phil Knight in Herbert 1996, np link)?

Outcomes / Impacts

It took a celebrity and a fired Nike worker to put a human face on the sweatshop issue in the U.S. and push the conflict from the margins into the mainstream of American media (Source: Bullert 2000, 6 link).

Prior to Global Exchange’s entry into the anti-Nike campaign, the major print news media coverage could be counted on one hand. But that coverage increased nearly three times the year Global Exchange entered the partnership (Source: Bullert 2000, 10 link).

Fans of the sports retailer started to boycott the company once they found out how their trainers were made (Source: BBC 2017, np link).

During the same period when Ballinger was targeting Nike [and Cicih was touring the US and Canada], Charles Kernaghan and Barbara Briggs of the National Labor Committee were focusing attention on sweatshops south of the border and, eventually, to the celebrities who lent their names to clothing made there. Kernaghan had just returned from a research trip to central America with a bag full of clothing labels that were sewn into clothing assembled at various sweatshops. Back in New York, he dumped the labels out on a table. Ellen Braune was there and saw that several labels carried the name, Kathie Lee Gifford. ‘He didn’t know who she was,’ Ellen told me over a Chinese lunch. ‘He doesn’t watch TV and didn’t think anybody would be interested in a morning talk show host. We knew better. It took some convincing, but eventually, Charlie came ‘round.’ She was right. The press went for it, and the tabloids had a dream story. In addition to major television exposure, including Entertainment Tonight and Kathie Lee’s own talk show, dozens of stories appeared linking Kathie Lee Gifford and Charles Kernaghan by name in the mainstream press in 1996. In July 1996, both campaigns converged at a ‘Fashion Industry Forum’ called by then Labor Secretary, Robert Reich. Kathie Lee Gifford and Cicih Sukaesih smiled for the cameras, but then they went returned to their designated roles in the media drama. The Fashion Forum had a dark side. Cicih was not allowed to enter the building nor to testify about her experience. Gifford, on the advice of her publicist, Howard Rubenstein, continued to express her concern about sweatshop labor and testified that she would establish her own monitoring system in factories where subcontractors manufacture clothes with her label. She urged other celebrities to do the same (Source: Bullert 2000, 10-11 link).

Labour rights activists were not impressed. To them, the forum was more of a photo opportunity than a real working summit. The anti-sweatshop groups were especially upset that Cicih Sukaesih had been refused entrance to the forum because, as the event organisers said, they already had a worker there. Sukaesih’s treatment confirmed activists’ fears that the forum was more about repairing the retailers’ battered image and advancing the Clinton administration’s electoral agenda than addressing the needs of sweatshop workers. Although [labour secretary] Reich’s intentions seemed genuine, activists suspected that the administration wanted to deflect public attention away from the way sweatshop exposes were raising doubts about the [government’s] free market agenda. It was an election year, after all, and part of Clinton’s reelection bid rested on emphasizing  the alleged benefits of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But the country’s labour unions were opposed to NAFTA, and the president needed organized labor’s support to win. Addressing the sweatshop issue gave Clinton a way to show labor that he was concerned about the issues that mattered to workers (Source: Dannaher & Mark 2003, 76, link).

I would like [Jordan] to do the same thing Kathie Lee Gifford has done, which is to take responsibility for the conditions of the workers that make the products that they endorse and promote (Source: Sukaesih in Anon 1996a, np).

After being turned away from the Fashion Forum, Sukaesih visited Foot Locker stores to examine and try on Nike shoes (Source: Bullert 2000, 10-11 link).

On the day when Sukaesih was denied entry into Nike’s headquarters, [Director of Corporate Communications] Donna Gibbs announced Nike’s intention to join the Apparel Industry Partnership … which was an anti-sweatshop coalition made up of major clothing manufacturers, labor unions and NGOs, and with the aim of developing ‘global labor standards, which would include a system of independent monitoring’ (Source: Xiaolan 2010, 141 link).

The press coverage over sweatshops and Kathie Lee Gifford set in motion the call to develop standards on working conditions in apparel and other product sectors. In August 1996, the Clinton administration responded by creating a presidential task force - the Apparel Partnership Initiative - inviting corporations and some representatives of labor and NGOs to develop minimal standards at apparel factories in the U.S. and abroad. Representatives from labor unions, human rights groups and corporations, including Nike, Liz Claiborne and L. L. Bean, made some progress on child-labor and anti-harassment practices, but deadlocked over what constitutes a sweatshop and any clear commitment to ‘a living wage.’ (Labor and human rights groups argued any factory requiring more than a 48 hour week should be considered a ‘sweatshop,’ whereas the apparel companies argued only factories requiring workers to work more than 60 hour work week should qualify.) This coalition did not last long. By the time it had evolved into the Fair Labor Association (FLA) in 1999, most labor and human rights groups including the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), had withdrawn from the group because corporate members proved unwilling to develop independent monitoring mechanism to enforce labor standards and conditions, or pay wages labor and human rights organizations considered sufficient for workers to meet their basic needs. The FLA supports voluntary codes of conduct and required its members to pay workers at least the minimum wage in their own countries, setting the minimum age for workers at 15 years old, and companies who joined the FLA could not require workers to work more than 60 hours per week. Companies joining the FLA also had to establish internal monitoring systems to enforce these rules, yet the result of this monitoring would be confidential and limited in scope (Source: Bullert 2000, 7-8 link).

[Nike] released a statement Monday, saying it has used its influence to improve the situation at Sukaesih's former plant and elsewhere. ‘This is an example of the benefit Nike brings in upgrading labor practices in emerging market societies,’ the statement read. Nike said it employs about 800 people to oversee conditions among its subcontractors, allows independent reviews of the facilities and pays, on average, double the minimum wage. ‘U.S. labor organizers continue to focus on sporadic instances from four and five years ago when Nike's subcontracting in Indonesia was first beginning,’ Nike said. ‘We prefer to focus on the proactive changes that have occurred since that time.’ The company said it has created ‘highly-desirable jobs.’ Protesters outside Nike Town disagreed. [One] called Nike claims that it pays double the minimum wage a ‘flat-out lie.’ Jeff Ballinger … accused Nike of ‘management by terror.’ … ‘Amnesty (International) has been concerned with the Indonesian situation for some time,’ said Midwest Deputy Director Michael Heflin. ‘(The country) has a history of horrific human rights' violations.’ He said the companies who contract there are aware of the violations. ‘What we see is sort of a collusion between the Indonesian government and the companies. The company is often allowed to, sort of, keep its hands clean,’ Heflin said. ‘We're saying with that profit comes some responsibility’ (Source: Anon 1996a, np).

Nine Indonesian nongovernmental organizations have offered to monitor Nike factories in their country, but Nike refuses to allow independent monitors to verify hours and pay levels (Source: Pilisuk & Tennant 1997, 25+ link).

A senior [US] government official pledged … to dispatch a team to investigate reports of human rights violations at a factory in western Java producing shoes for the U.S. Nike sporting goods company. ‘We will immediately check into the factory to find out about the allegations,’ said an official of the worker protection division of the Manpower Ministry. He said his office will compile evidence about alleged human rights violations as claimed by protesters in Washington early this week … Nike representatives from the United States were [also] expected to arrive in Indonesia to find out whether the claims are true. He said if the company is found in violation of existing Indonesian regulations, ‘stern measures’ will be taken. ‘The company cannot fire workers as they want, or cut off relations with their workers like that becuase there are regulations against that,’ the ministry official said. ‘The company also cannot force its workers to work overtime.’ A representative of Nike Inc. in Indonesia, Indra Kurnia, claimed workers at the company were being treated better than at other companies in the country. Kurnia declined to go into further detail, saying the issue is being handled by Nike's public relations office in Hong Kong. But other company officials said all factories related to the Nike company had implemented a new minimum daily wage in line with the government regulations. In a related development, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was scheduled to arrive in Indonesia on Friday and is expected to investigate reports of unfair and inhumaine working conditions at factories producing goods for American companies. Jackson, who leads the U.S.-based Rainbow Coalition, was scheduled to visit a factory in western Java producing shoes for the U.S.-based Reebok company (Source: Anon 1996b, np).

Jesse Jackson has a church in South Chicago and a radio program and she [Cicih] was interviewed on the radio. And then he travelled to Indonesia to do a sort of publicity tour to take advantage of the Nike agitation to get on television here in the States to say he was going do something about it. But then a year later he ended up taking money from Nike and never really organising anything against them (Source: Ballinger in Fanshawe 2017, np).

… in 1998 Nike CEO [Phil Knight] admitted that his company had become synonymous with slave wages and forced overtime. He announced a program to address the complaints made against them by allowing monitoring of their factories by NGOs (Source: BBC 2017, np link).

[Because of] the combination of the strikes and the publicity just in Indonesia, forget the global publicity, [it] worked out that the wage tripled from $0.86 to about $2.70. And I think a little bit of that was maybe the US ambassador maybe whispering to the Indonesian counterpart saying ‘Hey, you know, this reflects badly on us too. I mean, our companies are here and this wage is exceedingly abusive, low’. ... So it kind of went against the common knowledge that if you raise wages these jobs will go elsewhere, in fact at $2.70 a day it was still a very good deal and Indonesia was an excellent place to operate for a lot of reasons for these brands (Source: Ballinger in Fanshawe 2017, np).

[But] Mr. Knight said the main causes of the company’s falling sales were the financial crisis in Asia, where the company had been expanding sales aggressively, and its failure to recognize a shifting consumer preference for hiking shoes. ‘I truthfully don’t think that there has been a material impact on Nike sales by the human rights attacks,’ he said, citing the company’s marketing studies (Source: Cushman 1998, np link).

On May 12, 1998, [he] announced his company would change the way it does business overseas, raising the minimum age to 18 for new workers at shoe factories, and raise it to 16 for those at other plants. He agreed to tighten air quality controls, and by 2002, only order footwear from factories that offer after-hours education to qualified workers. Knight was silent on the issues of wages and the length of the work day (Source: Bullert 2000, 12 link).

[Then], at a conference inaugurating the Workers’ Rights Consortium at New York University, different responses to Nike’s seemingly conciliatory actions caused division within the [activist] coalition. In front of an audience of hundreds of activists, Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange applauded Nike for eliminating toxic glues that posed a health hazard to workers in Vietnamese factories. She listed other ‘victories’ resulting from having pressured Nike. In Indonesia, for example, she noted Nike’s sub-contractors now comply with minimum wage laws. Several in the audience criticized what they perceived as her conciliatory approach to a corporate bad guy, and were resolute that activists must keep up the pressure on Nike until it pays a ‘living wage’ and ensures that workers can negotiate fairly with their employers without company interference. A former college soccer coach who resigned rather than wear uniforms with the Nike logo approached the microphone concerned that Nike would use Benjamin’s comments to improve its image, ‘I don’t want your quotes praising Nike to show up in their company press releases,’ he said (Source: Bullert 2000, 12 link).

This poses a dilemma for long-term activists seeking to use media to create enduring change in an era of media-driven politics: their issues can be trapped not only by the prevailing media’s framing, but also by the complicity of the public relations activists who reinforce it. For example, public relations activists know how to use the prevailing media frame of ‘heroes and villains’ to make news, but this framing comes at the cost of distortion, elevating the drama between a few main characters and obscuring the economic forces that led to the conflict at hand. In the course of the transaction, media activists also risk redefining the goals of a campaign in terms of symbolic, incremental acts that they can use to declare victory and then move on. This approach can undermine the long-term goals of long-time, one-issue activists who have their eyes on the prize of the workers in sweatshop factories (Source: Bullert 2000, 12 link).

Activists, such as Ballinger … are in the marathon struggle for global labor rights, and their motivation stems in part from a profound direct connection to the workers who are seeking the means to improve their lives. They have also conducted the research themselves. Activism arising come from years of commitment, of close relations with the workers, can grate on those who share similar, broad goals, but have scripted different strategies for getting there. Public relations activists, like Benjamin, live in a media world where they engage with various campaigns on an intermittent basis. When they adopt a particular campaign, such as Nike, Starbucks, the Gap, they’re more like sprinters rather than long distance runners: they’re in it for the media hits and incremental reform. The constraints of their work-world also requires flexibility, the ability to focus on multiple issues, a keen sense of timing, and the knack for recognizing ways to capitalize on the political moods of journalists and political decision-makers to forward the agenda of the moment. From the perspective of the long-time, single-issue activists, the public relations activists may seem flighty, or even parasitic, when they capitalize on years of steadfast research. From the perspective of the public relations activists, the longtimers may seem inflexible and unrealistic given the political and journalistic ‘realities’ of news making. ‘This struggle isn’t about a tiny NGO in San Francisco beating up on Big, Bad Nike,’ Jeff Ballinger argued. ‘The media’s focus should be on the situation of the workers living in substandard conditions and earning less than a living wage.’ In the current media-driven political world, both types of activism are essential to build an effective social movement: the Ballingers and Kernaghans need the Benjamins and Braunes. The difference is that the former are irreplaceable (Source: Bullert 2000, 12 link).

[Sukaesih] remains on a blacklist that has kept her unemployed ever since (Source: Dixon 1996, np link).

The case of the 24 workers is remarkable in that it went through Indonesia's corrupt legal system and the workers' demand for back pay was upheld at every level (Source: Bissell 2000, 26 link).

Her case was upheld by every Indonesian court which has reviewed it … and is now before the Indonesian Supreme Court. Nike has never urged its contractors to reinstate Cicih nor the more than 60 other workers documented as having been fired illegally for their union activities in the shoe factories (Source: Boycott Nike 2001, np link).

The most recent court to review [Cicih’s] case ruled against the company in November of 1995 and ordered that the workers be reinstated, with back pay. This is a remarkable decision, given the repressive nature of Indonesian government. Nike headquarters in Beaverton, OR has refused to act on behalf of these workers. Nike takes the ‘neutral’ position that it will leave the case up to the Indonesian Supreme Court. Nike’s neutrality means that Cicih may never live to see her case decided, since the Supreme Court last year ruled on only 24 cases out of a backlog of some 2,000!!! Since losing her position with the Nike contractor, Cicih probably has been blacklisted. In any case, at her age, she has no prospect of finding further employment in a global sweatshop system which spits out women at age 28 as no longer of use. Cicih has been living with a sister and relies on support from her family (Source: Anon nd, np link). 

My case was settled December 29, 1998. I received 5 million rupiah, about $500 - from the Nike subcontractor. That was after 6 years of fighting to get justice from Nike. But Nike didn't give anything to me. The money was all from the subcontractor (Source: Sukaesih 2011, 38+ link).

Nike never once lifted a finger on behalf of those workers (Source: Bissell 2000, 26 link).

Now I'm a volunteer at the UCM-Urban Community Mission [a non-governmental organization] in Jakarta. I am organizing workers in Serang, Balairaja and Tangerang, especially in the shoe industry. The mission of UCM is to open the workers' eyes to their rights and help them organize. UCM also advocates for workers. My work is difficult. I go to work in the factories to learn what is going on from the inside. Before that, I get to know the workers in the community. And then from there, I start to know about their problems and if they need help, I try to help them and bring them to the UCM office. Here's an example. There are some people in the factory who have accidents, and the factory doesn't help them in any way. So, I try to convince people that under Indonesian law they actually have a right to sue. I bring them to the UCM office and we try to provide a lawyer. The lawyer can file a suit for them. In the recent economic crisis in Indonesia, many people got laid off and didn't know anything about their rights. They just went back to their villages. P.T. Eltri [a Nike contractor] used to have 8,000 workers and now has only 4,000 workers. It is because Nike doesn't have any contracts with that factory any more; it is almost bankrupt. Reebok is also cutting back. Even with the layoffs, almost every day there are strikes or worker actions in the various industries-almost every day; at least once a week. But it is different in the shoe industry and some other industries because the people who work there don't have much education and people are too worried to do a strike. Because of their lack of education, people don't know their rights. And they are scared. Every time they make a strike, there is a military response. Despite this, the workers are organizing themselves. They even defeated the state-run union in a factory in Tangerang. It didn't do anything for the workers, so the workers wanted it gone. By organizing themselves, they won a raise from the factory--a sportswear clothing company producing for Nike and Adidas. The state-run union was discredited, and the new labor organization pressured the factory and finally the factory gave them a raise, and maternity benefits for the women. The new organization is an independent union. It also has a network with organizations in other factories. That happened since Suharto left. Since he left, the state-run union has lost its power in Indonesia because it is under Suharto's political party, which is also losing power. It seems as though truly independent unions are starting to emerge in Indonesian factories (Source: Sukaesih 2011, 38+ link).

Phil Knight threw around many promises to get good PR so people would buy more NIKE's. But they were just empty promises. Michael Jordan promised to come and see the NIKE factories in Indonesia but he never did that. I also heard that Nike gave a lot of money to U.S. universities. Students in those schools should use that money to do research on NIKE in Asia. NIKE has said lots of nice things, but nothing has really changed. I just want NIKE to fulfill its promises (Source: Sukaesih 2011, 38+ link).

In recent months, Nike took a hand-picked group of US students on a tour of some of its factories and then published their findings. This was supposed to be a rebuke to student anti-sweat shop activists who have criticised Nike's labour practices and Nike's corporate-friendly monitoring systems. One of the places visited on the student tour was the BJ&B factory in Honduras, which makes clothing for Nike. Unbeknownst to Nike, student anti-sweatshop activists in the US then sent their own delegation to Honduras to check out the BJ&B factory. And this delegation interviewed workers in private, away from the factory. In a safe setting, the workers confided that they were afraid to tell the truth to Nike's hand-picked delegation, for fear they would be fired (Source: Bissell 2000, 26 link).

For the past twelve years, I have been teaching elementary school in a predominantly white, upper middle-class elementary public school in New Jersey … Every year, as school begins to wind down at the beginning of May, I ask my students to choose one topic for an end of the year play to be performed for our entire school, kindergarten through grade five. I require that their topic be of social significance, concerning an issue they care about and want others to learn about. In past years, students have chosen to research and write plays on the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the ‘truth’ about Columbus, the Paterson silk strike of 1913, and the South African elections. Three years ago, students in my class chose the global sweatshop as the topic of their play. When we discussed possible companies on which to focus our inquiry, Nike was at the top of the list. ‘Most kids think they can't live without Nike,’ one student observed. The others agreed that the company holds great sway over young people. Several wondered if we could even compete with its power: ‘The whole point of the play would be to get them to join the boycott,’ one student cautioned, ‘but most kids would never stop wearing Nike stuff. It wouldn't be cool at all to be against Nike.’ Despite these misgivings, they concluded that Nike needed to be researched because ‘kids should know all the horrible things they are doing.’ Aware that Nike has been a leader in corporate exploitation of Third World low-wage labor, and that a wealth of information was available about its crimes, I strongly endorsed their choice (Source: Sweeney & Feld 1999, 11 link).

[After doing their research, my students] spoke of the workers with greater compassion, they presented portraits of workers both hopeless and helpless, aware of inequity but unable to address it. Fortunately, the former Indonesian Nike worker Cicih Sukaesih was at that time touring the Americas. This young woman's story offered my students a heartening example of one worker, among many, fighting for justice. After she and twenty-three co-workers were fired for organizing the walkout of 6,200 employees, she was now in the United States to meet with Phil Knight and demand back wages and the rehiring of the fired workers. On the web page of the organization Global Exchange, we read Sukaesih's speeches in which she told of the intolerable, abusive conditions in Nike plants and urged independent monitoring of factories. The students now saw that many Third World workers were seriously involved in a movement against sweatshop conditions, though unfortunately they did not breathe life into these images in their play (Source: Sweeney & Feld 1999, 12-13 link).

[The] students crafted a cohesive, inspiring, and intelligent piece of writing. The script was impressive and hard-hitting. The students began with the familiar, scenes taking place on our school playground at recess and at a local McDonalds, then had the audience travel to Nike and Disney factories, then Michael Jordan's mansion and the corporate offices of the two companies. Throughout, they represented their own political education: they showed other kids learning the meaning of the word ‘exploit’ and connecting it to their own purchases; they offered a window through which to view a struggling, hungry family in Haiti; they demonstrated the apathy of Jordan and Eisner (Eisner was, by the way, counting his millions when first encountered). The play ends on a note of hope, as two students discuss the growing union movements in the Third World and then present themselves as active agents of change in the same movement: ‘If we can get tons of people to join in this movement,’ one actor says, ‘I think we can make a difference.’ The play concludes with the other actor's response: ‘So what are we waiting for. Let's get started.’ It was clear to me that the students truly believed in the message they wanted to communicate (Source: Sweeney & Feld 1999, 13-14 link).

That message, however, was stopped before it could be received by anyone. Three days before the performance for the entire school, my principal entered the classroom and told me that the material was inappropriate for the intended audience: the children wouldn't understand the play and the younger students might be upset by it. She also asserted that my students could not have possibly understood an issue as complex as the global sweatshop, as evidenced by the one-sided nature of the script. The performance would be only for the parents. When I announced this decision, one student cried, ‘that's censorship!’ The others agreed. I felt unprepared for their strong response: they were angry, incredulous, and a few even cried. They insisted on writing letters to the administration to plead their case. These brilliant letters made a strong case for the play. One student wrote that ‘we know more than you think,’ another accused the administration of ageism. But these letters, like those they wrote to Michael Jordan, went unanswered. What happened next was pure luck. The day of the play, Jeff Ballinger, the founder of Press for Change, was surprised to discover that the play was to be performed for parents only. He contacted The New York Times, and the article the newspaper ran attracted attention from people and media all over the country. Letters of protest poured into the school. Scott Ellis, the resident director of a Broadway Theater, saw the article and offered his theater for a performance in October 1996. Our play was to open on Broadway (Source: Sweeney & Feld 1999, 14 link).

Millions of trainers are still made in Indonesia. Cicih has never had a job since working for Nike. She lives with her sister’s family. She was named one of 100 female heroines by a US based group for her work highlighting abuses. She remembers fondly, her trip to America, and in particular the first time she tried on a pair of Nike trainers (Source: BBC 2017, np link).

But even if I was given some Nike trainers today, I would not wear them because wearing them would mean I didn’t care about the suffering of the workers who made them (Source: Sukaesih in BBC 2017, np link).

Cicih Sukaesih‘s story, and hundreds like it, makes a mockery of the ‘Nike’s new leaf’ narrative (Source: Ballinger 2015, np link).

Nike never fulfilled any promises they made since my case, and I believe, will never do in the future. When Obama said Nike is a rather successful and clean company, I would say Nike is successful, but … [is] lying to the world about its labour’s welfare (Source: Sukaesih 2015, np link)!

Sources / further readings

Anon (1996a) Indonesian worker outside Nike Town. United Press International 22 July

Anon (1996b) Indonesia to probe Nike shoe factory. United Press International  18 July

Anon (nd) Cicih Sukaesih Speaks at Alberta Federation of Labour Convention May 8. Labor Alerts / Labor News ( last accessed 20 December 2017)

Ballinger, J. (2015) Cicih Sukaesih‘s story, and hundreds like it, makes a mockery of the ‘Nike’s new leaf’ narrative. Facebook 7 May ( last accessed 20 December 2017)

BBC (2017) Witness: Nike and the sweatshop problem. BBC World Service. 15 August ( last accessed 18 October 2017)

Bissell, T. (2000) Unions against sweatshops. International Union Rights 7(4), 26-27 ( last accessed 21 December 2017) 

Boycott Nike (2001) Boycott NIKE - Just DO It! ( last accessed 20 December 2017)
Bullert, B.J. (2000) Strategic public relations, sweatshops and the making of a global movement. Seattle: University of Washington Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy (  last accessed 20 December 2017)

Cushman, J. (1998) Nike pledges to end child labor and apply U.S. rules abroad. New York Times 13 May (  last accessed 20 December 2017)

Danaher, K. & Mark, J. (2003) Insurrection: citizen challenges to corporate power. London: Routledge ( last accessed 21 December 2017)

Davies, M. (1997) Just (Don't) Do It: ethics and international trade. Melbourne University Law Review 21, 601-620 ( last accessed 21 December 2017)

Dixon, N. (1996) Nike: how cool is exploitation. Green Left Weekly 28 August ( last accessed 20 December 2017)

Dwyer, J. (1996) These sneakers really stink. 1 woman shames Nike and crosses the Jordan. New York Daily News 18 July ( last accessed 20 December 2017)

Fanshawe, A. (2017) Interview with Jeff Ballinger. 30 November 2017

Green, P. (1996) Nike, Jordan challenged on conditions: Indonesia workers in court battle.  Journal of commerce 25 July 

Hall, L. (1996) Former Indonesian worker appears at Nike Town protest. Associated Press 23 July

Haq, F. (1996) Nike endorses monitoring after labour flap. Inter Press Service 25 July ( last accessed 20 December 2017)

Herbert, B. (1996) In America: trampled dreams. New York Times 12 July ( last accessed 20 December 2017)

Hoyt, K. (1996) Rights for Third World workers. Washington Post 9 August

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Page compiled by Alex Fanshawe, Lorian Douglas Dufresne, Frances Nicholson, Josh Perkins, Oscar Cator and Charlie Beere as part of the Geographies of Material Culture module at the University of Exeter. Page edited by Ian Cook (last updated July 2020). Product image used under Creative Commons licence from here, with background removed.