League of FansFounded by Ralph Nader, League of Fans is a sports reform project working to improve sports by increasing awareness of the sports industry's relationship to society, exposing irresponsible business practices, ensuring accountability to fans, and encouraging the industry to contribute to societal well-being.
Ralph Nader and League of Fans' letter to LeBron James requesting that he push for anti-sweatshop provisions in his shoe contract
April 8, 2003
Mr. LeBron James
Dear Mr. James:
Congratulations on your outstanding accomplishments as both a student and an athlete at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.
It is widely assumed that you will be declaring for the NBA draft in the coming months and are projected by most commentators to be the number one pick. With all of your potential both on and off the court, some have even labeled you as the "next Michael Jordan."
While any basketball player would revel in having their playing ability compared to Michael Jordan's, we would like to take this opportunity to request that you separate yourself from Michael Jordan in an area where he has fallen markedly short. Mr. Jordan has always had the chance to use his influence to do something wonderful for the well-being of human beings in Nike's sweatshops (overseas factories where workers are subject to extreme exploitation) whose work has helped make him a multi-millionaire. He chooses not to support justice for those people.
With your anticipated endorsement contract with either Nike or Adidas, you have the chance to do what Michael Jordan should have done and use your cultural status to help make the world a better place by helping to stop the use of sweatshop labor in the sports shoe and sports apparel industry.
Nike and Adidas (along with Reebok) are synonymous with sweatshops in Third-World countries. Their products, typically manufactured by subcontracted companies, have become symbols of labor rights violations, paltry wages, forced overtime and abuse for hundreds of thousands of workers. And despite pressure from around the world, Nike and Adidas still choose to maximize profits by undermining human rights standards.
It does not matter which of these companies you ultimately choose to endorse, but we ask that you stand up for the people who will be manufacturing the products that will make you a wealthy man. If you demand in your contract, whether it is with Nike or Adidas, that they improve the conditions of the contracted factories that manufacture their products and that you have power to influence and review the working conditions for those who make the products you endorse, it will pressure the entire sports shoe and apparel industry to change.
Some refer to Michael Jordan as the "king of sweatshops" for being the world's most successful salesman of sweatshop-made shoes. As New York Times columnist Harvey Araton wrote in September 2001, "No one has ever confused you, Michael, with Muhammed Ali or Martina Navratilova or Arthur Ashe. With your icon leverage you might have helped convert Nike, the notorious third-world workplace abuser, but you didn't do causes that were not commercials."
In the coming weeks and months, you will find yourself in a strong position with the ability to help diminish or even eliminate some sweatshops. As Nike and Adidas compete for your services, we urge you to push for inclusion of as many of the following contract conditions as possible. In their global operations, including those of contractors and subcontractors, Nike/Adidas must:
1) Ensure the enforcement of workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively (unionize) without intimidation.
2) Signal to factory owners and governments in supplier countries that enforcement of labor standards, including increased wages, will not lead to relocation in search of even cheaper labor.
3) Ensure that workers are paid living wages which are at least adequate to meet the basic needs of family and allow a small amount of discretionary income.
4) Ensure that workplaces are safe and healthy, eliminating exposure to toxic chemicals, providing adequate personal protective equipment and protecting workers from dangerous machinery.
5) Ensure that workers are not forced or coerced into working unreasonably long hours and that workers can obtain sick leave.
6) Ensure that workers are free from physical and verbal abuse, intimidation and sexual harassment.
7) Secure the protection of workers who speak out or blow-the-whistle on poor factory conditions.
8) Make public the names and locations of all overseas contractors.
9) Work with international unions and human rights organizations to establish a transparent factory monitoring program that is verified by credible organizations which are completely independent of the companies themselves and involve unannounced factory visits. (Such a program was created by United Students Against Sweatshops, an organization of college students and community members at over 200 college campuses across the country. They developed the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) in 2000 to verify and inspect conditions in factories producing apparel for colleges and universities and to ensure that the apparel of WRC member schools (112 and growing) are not made in sweatshops.)
10) Guarantee, with confirmation from an independent organization through a transparent factory monitoring program, that any product that uses the "LeBron James" name or likeness meets the conditions negotiated initially.
If Nike or Adidas were to meet these demands, the lives of hundreds of thousands of people would be improved immediately. You will have your greatest leverage to push the companies to meet as many of these conditions as possible during your contract negotiations with them. It is then that you can best seek legally binding, written commitments. If you proceed to advocate for as much of this sweatshop eradication agenda as possible, you would be respected throughout the world for not just your ability to play basketball, but for your generosity as a human being in doing your part to make the world a better place.
This is of course a lot to ask of a young man. But you are on the verge of choosing to immerse yourself in the world of international commerce, which inevitably brings with it a wide array of complicated and difficult challenges and decisions. Moreover, in choosing to leverage your power to diminish the evils of sweatshops, you can call not just on the talents of your agent and legal representatives, but a vast array of experts and activists who have visited sweatshops around the world, carefully documented conditions in these facilities, lobbied tirelessly for the major athletic shoe, clothing and equipment makers to respect basic working conditions, and who have established bona fide and independent mechanisms to monitor workplace conditions. These experts and activists, many little older than yourself, would be thrilled to assist you in the effort to ensure respect for the basic rights of workers in athletic shoe, clothing and equipment factories around the world.
Ralph Nader and League of Fans ask LeBron James to support workers' rights in Nike factories (12/4/03)
Cleveland Plain Dealer: Consumer advocacy group asks LeBron for help (4/9/03)
Akron Beacon Journal: Nader asks LeBron to take a stand: Activist suggests athlete use status to improve shoe factory (4/9/03)
The Business Journal, Portland: LeBron James urged to speak out against sweatshops (4/9/03)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram: CHAT ROOM; Ralph Nader, Consumer advocate (5/18/03)
New York Times (registration required): Should the 'Next Jordan' Strive to Be Unlike Mike? (5/24/03)
ESPN.com: What would Larry Bird say? (5/29/03)