By Ken Reed

Nike is a sports marketing behemoth. They usually get what they want. And what they apparently want is profits at all costs. Ethical business practices be damned.

For decades, Nike profited from sweatshop manufacturing facilities in third-world countries where wages and working conditions were terrible. Bigger profit margins always seemed to win out over having manufacturing plants with acceptable working conditions. Activists have campaigned for years to improve worker rights in Nike sweatshops in developing countries. And while they have made some headway, even Nike acknowledges that problems remain in some of the third-world facilities in which Nike products are made.

After the Tiger Woods wife-cheating scandal came to light, and it became clear that Woods’ carefully crafted image of the principled family man was a sham, many corporations dropped Woods from their stable of endorsers. Not Nike, instead they created an ad campaign around the following words: “Winning takes care of everything” on top of a photo of Woods lining up a putt. Nice. It was a spin-off on the ethically-corrupt sentiment espoused by Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Based on the company’s sweatshop history and the way it handled the Woods issue, Nike might some day create an ad campaign that states, “Profit isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” That statement could be plastered on a photo of a five-year-old Pakistani child working in a Nike factory, or a photo of Indonesian workers being hit by shoes thrown at them by Nike supervisors.

Now comes news that Nike is involved in the giant FIFA corruption scandal. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that the FIFA investigation conducted by the Justice Department uncovered “agreements regarding sponsorship of the Brazilian national soccer team by a major U.S. sportswear company.” The company she’s referring to is Nike, which completed a $160 million deal with Brazilian soccer officials in 1996 to sponsor the Brazil national team. The deal included Nike uniforms, footwear, apparel, equipment and accessories. According to the indictment, a couple days later, Nike also cut a $30 million deal with a sports marketing agency called Traffic Brazil. Those payments were used in part for bribes and kickbacks. The owner and founder of the Traffic agency, Jose Hawilla, has already pleaded guilty to charges related to the investigation, according to the Justice Department.

Nike’s code of ethics, “Inside the Lines,” starts on page one with four words: “Do the Right Thing.” A historical case study of Nike business operations would reveal that readers could safely stop right there.

The Nike code of ethics is clearly nothing but a sad joke.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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