Vol. III, Bulletin No. 9.                                                                     April 27, 1998 

A Lawsuit Against Nike, a New Code for Duke U Licensees

Sunlight: One Badly Needed Cure for Sweatshops

Day by day the outcry against sweatshops grows louder and louder not only in the United States but across the world.  This protest has become a grass-roots movement so diversified, so decentralized, and yet so internationalized that very few top political leaders have yet to realize what is going on.

Even when you're well plugged into the Internet, you can't keep up with all that's happening.  Here I focus on just two innovative developments of the past few weeks.

Nike Sued under California's Consumer-Protection Laws

In San Francisco Superior Court on April 20 a group of lawyers filed a civil suit charging Nike Inc. with violating California's consumer laws by misleading the public about working conditions for the 450,000 Chinese, Indonesian, and Vietnamese women and men who make Nike products.

Nike, with no factories of its own, since 1992 has had a code of conduct covering working conditions of  the foreign factories in which contractors produce shoes and other athletic goods.  But that well publicized code, the suit charges, was intended "to entice consumers who do not want to purchase products made in sweatshops."  The suit lists a wide range of abuses reported as occurring in Nike factories, including physical violence against young women who are forced to kneel in front of supervisors, are forced to run laps around factories as punishment, and are smacked with shoe soles for using the wrong color in shoe production.

The suit seeks repayment of all sums made by any illegal business practices.  It was filed by a group of lawyers who invoked California's consumer-protection law in an earlier suit against R. J. Reynolds for its Joe Camel advertising campaign.  The company dropped the ads and settled the case out of court.

Duke Adopts Code Requiring Disclosure of Factory Locations

Those words introduce a comprehensive code of conduct that now covers all companies that manufacture products emblazoned with a Duke name or logo.  The code is highly impressive, so much so that I have included the text elsewhere in these pages (at dukecode.htm).  It is based largely on existing international standards, such as those embodied in conventions of the UN's International Labor Organization.

Unlike  most other codes of conduct, it has serious enforcement powers. These two, in combination, have great promise of exposing sweatshops to the curative rays of sunlight:

Duke University deserves congratulations for its initiative.  It all happened, however, because a group of Duke students founded a group they called Students Against Sweatshops last August.  Tico Almeida, a junior and founder of the group, explained: "Since it's very difficult for an individual consumer to force companies to end things like child labor, we're asking Duke, which is a major player in the garment industry, to demand change."   The group, with just 20 members, just kept on asking until it won Duke's official approval.

Laggards at Home, Worse Laggards Abroad 

Once upon a time there was a clearcut division of labor between what men did and what women did.  Men hunted buffalo or worked in a steel mill.  Women did the family chores and cared for the children in a home or tepee.

When wives in large numbers began getting payroll jobs, many of them expected their husbands to assume more responsibilities at home.  That didn't happen.  Women found themselves with two careers instead of only one.  In the past 20 years, however, the sharp difference in family roles has blurred.   More and more working husbands are now sharing  home responsibilities that once were shouldered mostly by their working wives.

That's what a new study by the Families and Work Institute found in comparing the division of labor of working couples in 1997 with the pattern that U.S. Department of Labor research disclosed for 1977.  Twenty years ago, on days when both worked outside the home, a typical husband devoted only three hours to household duties for every 10 hours spent by his working wife.  By 1997 that ratio more than doubled:  seven and a half hours by the husband for his wife's 10. Ellen Galinsky, president of the institute, says: "We see that gap closing."

Gap is the key word.  More precisely, it's a "cultural gap."  I first heard that expression in a sociology class at the University of Chicago more than 30 years ago.  Though no longer fashionable among today's sociologists (according to my limited sampling), the term cultural gap serves the useful purpose of labeling--and thus highlighting--a common failure: the tendency of human attitudes and behavior to lag behind an important new development in society.

The failure of working husbands to adapt to the reality of working wives is just one example.  Not surprisingly, cultural lags flourish in the era of globalization. No gap is more crucial than the failure to adjust attitudes and behavior to how a fast-changing  global economy impacts ordinary working men and women.
So don't many working husbands still suffer from a cultural lag?   Yes, but they're catching up.  If only the great minds dealing with the global economy would do as well.

New Global Architecture Needs New Architects
Prior to a meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governers of seven leading industrial nations in mid-April, U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin delivered an address at the Brookings Institution on "Strengthening the Architecture of the International Financial System."  The message of his talk transcended the financial system.  After listing some of the challenges facing the global economy, he said that the answer is for the United States and other nations:

Good ideas all. Yet who will strengthen the architecture needed to put them into practice?

(Check http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/pr2366.htm for the full text of Rubin's remarks.) 

Diary: My Letter to the New York Times

On April 13 the New York Times published a letter of mine endorsing the paper's editorial view that the World Trade Organization is in need of reform.  Since my letter was somewhat abbreviated, and since in any case not all of you see the Times, I am including the unabbreviated text of my letter below.

To the editor:

It is high time to cure the World Trade Organization of its myopia.  As stated in the editorial ("Sea Turtle's Warning," 4/10/98), "the first order of business is to try to reform the WTO."  But the reform should not be limited to the serious lack of vision on environmental values.

Indeed, the WTO should not be allowed to interfere with U.S. laws that seek to protect endangered species by banning shrimp imports from countries whose boats trap and kill sea turtles. Any trade agreement that says otherwise needs prompt revision at the WTO ministerial meeting in Geneva May 18-20.

But what about countries that endanger the health and lives of little boys and girls forced to work 70 or 80 hours a week to make rugs, glassware, garments, shoes, and other products for export to the United States?  At present, the WTO, in its idolatry of free trade, would also rule out any U.S. law to prohibit the importation of products stained by child labor.

Thus far, as you rightly state, "the United States has failed to exercise leadership" to correct the WTO's distorted environmental values.  Neither has the Clinton administration exercised sufficient leadership to make the WTO sensitive to the human values that protect children.

For details on this issue, see my previous Bulletin, dated April 13.

Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. III-9, April 27, 1998
Robert A. Senser, editor

Copyright 1998
hrfw@senser.com. (Send e-mail)

Back to Human Rights for Workers Home Page
A short cut to a list of previous Bulletins in 1997 and 1996