Today, Ralph Nader and the sports reform project League of Fans sent a letter to NBA star rookie LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers asking him to help improve conditions for the workers who make the Nike products he endorses. In addition, the letter invites James to learn about Nike’s labor practices by attending an upcoming presentation in Cleveland called “Sweatshops and Social Justice: Nike in Indonesia – A Case Study.” The letter follows.
Dear Mr. James:
Congratulations on the amazing start to your professional basketball career, handling the pressure with maturity beyond your years and exceeding the expectations of virtually everyone.
Since our last letter on April 8, 2003 requesting that you negotiate anti-sweatshop provisions in your shoe contract, you signed with Nike for a reported $90 million over 7 years. Now, with your first line of Nike shoes due for sale in time for the holiday season on December 20 at an estimated cost of $110 a pair, our hope is that the workers who make those shoes receive the respect and dignity they deserve.
Though the inclusion of anti-sweatshop provisions in your original contract with Nike would have been a remarkable display of awareness and character for a young man, you are now a professional and have a greater opportunity to use your influence to do something wonderful for the human beings in Nike’s sweatshops whose work has helped make you a very wealthy man. Since the signing of your contract with Nike in May, you are linked to the well-being of the workers in Nike’s contracted factories. We ask that you support justice for them.
As we expressed in our previous letter, Nike products are synonymous with sweatshops in the Third-World and have become symbols of labor rights violations, paltry wages, forced overtime and abuse for hundreds of thousands of workers. Despite pressure from around the world, Nike still chooses to maximize profits by undermining human rights standards.
As the leader in the sports shoe and apparel industry, Nike has a responsibility to set an industry standard where labor, environmental and human rights are respected. Nike originally led the push into low-wage countries with poor human rights records for the purpose of profitable exploitation. Nike’s use of sweatshop factories has led every major company in the sportswear industry, and most of the rest of the clothing and apparel industry, to profit from them. As the world’s number one shoemaker, with annual sales over $10 billion, Nike could easily afford to reverse this practice and ensure decent pay and conditions in its factories and thereby pressure other companies to follow their lead.
Mr. James, you are in a unique position to stand up for the people who make the products you endorse and to make the world a better place in the process. You can improve their working conditions in the contracted factories and pressure the entire sports shoe and apparel industry to change.
We urge you to let Nike know that you support human rights and the workers’ three demands of:
– a living wage that allows workers to meet their basic needs;
– independent unions to be recognized and for factory management to collectively bargain with these unions in good faith; and
– a program of factory monitoring through international unions and human rights organizations that are credible and completely independent of the company.
In addition, we ask that you demand from Nike a guarantee, with confirmation from an independent organization through a transparent factory monitoring program, that any product which uses the “LeBron James” name or likeness meet the three demands of workers listed above.
If you feel that you are not yet in a position to make an informed decision on whether to leverage your power to diminish the evils of sweatshops, let us recommend that you call on the talents of a vast array of experts and activists, some little older than yourself, in the fight for improved workplace conditions who would be pleased to assist you in learning about sweatshops and Nike’s role in taking advantage of them.
Though on fairly short notice, you have a great opportunity to educate yourself on Nike’s labor practices next week in Cleveland.
On Tuesday, December 9, 2003 at 9:45am, Educating for Justice (EFJ) will present “Sweatshops and Social Justice: Nike in Indonesia – A Case Study” at St. Ignatius High School in an event sponsored by the Cleveland Catholic High School Students for Peace.
The two-hour interactive multi-media presentation will include slide shows, role-playing, powerful video footage, and a question-answer period. EFJ directors Leslie Kretzu and Jim Keady will introduce the audience to the issue of sweatshops through the lens of social justice by using an easily understandable case study: Nike’s labor and environmental practices in Indonesia.
The presentation will detail the month Leslie and Jim spent in an Indonesian factory workers’ slum living on $1.25 a day, a typical wage paid to Nike’s subcontracted workers. Along with personal accounts of lived solidarity, the presentation will include the latest information on Nike’s labor and environmental practices that EFJ researched in Indonesia in 2001 and 2002.
There will be an encore presentation that evening at 7:30pm at the Doland Center for Science and Technology on the campus of John Carroll University, which we realize you can not attend since you will be playing a game at Gund Arena during that time. We ask that if you have prior obligations on the morning of December 9 and can not attend personally, to please extend your invitation to someone who can attend one of the presentations on your behalf. If you prefer, we’re certain that a private presentation could also be arranged.
You have a chance for respect around the world for not just your basketball playing ability, but for your generosity as a human being in improving working conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers. This is a respect that Michael Jordan, the “king of sweatshops,” never achieved as the world’s most successful salesman of sweatshop-made shoes. You can achieve more than that just by helping to improve the conditions for those who make the products you endorse.
Project Director, League of Fans
What: Sweatshops and Social Justice: Nike in Indonesia – A Case Study
When: Tuesday, December 9, 2003 at 9:45 am
Where: St. Ignatius High School, 1911 W. 30th Street, Cleveland, Oh 44113
Who: Presentation by Educating for Justice, and sponsored by Cleveland Catholic High School Students for Peace
For more information on the event, contact Jim Keady at: [email protected]
Sports Forum Podcast
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Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
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League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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