Some Things Never Change


Sweatshops still exist, and Jeff Ballinger is still on a mission to try and make them go away.  When we first heard Ballinger’s name, he was using Nike as an example of social irresponsibility.  A labor activist since high school, Ballinger finally landed an official job in 1988 in studying labor conditions and wages in developing worlds, specifically at Indonesian plants.  After hundreds of interviews and additional research, Ballinger continually published his own newsletter on Nike’s labor practices.  However, these reports received minimal attention until they coincided with the outbreak of strikes in Indonesia in the early 1990s.  All of a sudden, Ballinger and his articles were acknowledged all throughout the world, and he became a main talking point in many case studies and discussions on Nike’s labor practices.  While we all hear stories about huge corporations like Nike and Apple regarding the changes that have taken place in labor conditions, we need to dig a little bit deeper to discover what happened to Jeff Ballinger.

I always wondered what impact Ballinger would have had from the very beginning if he had access to global social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook.  So, my investigation into his whereabouts naturally started by searching for his profiles on Facebook and Twitter.  Operating under the Twitter handle “@press4change,” it was clear that he was still on the same mission as the one he began over 25 years ago.  However, with a modest 285 followers, just higher than the profile average of 208 followers, Ballinger’s popularity on the social media platform is much lower than I would have imagined.  In reading his tweets from just the last month, it is interesting to note that four of them are about Nike, three others are tweeted “@MDaisey,” and another is an article regarding Apple and underage workers.  Like I said, some things never change.

Although I enjoyed reading through Ballinger’s recent tweets and thoughts on current events, a more interesting discovery was his contribution to a website called “teamsweat.org.”  This website was started by Jim Keady, the soccer coach from the Harvard Business Case we read who “publicly quit his job rather than wear the swoosh.”  There are countless articles and news updates regarding Nike’s current labor conditions, including a July 2009 article that Ballinger wrote titled “Finding an Anti-Sweatshop Strategy That Works.”  He makes his stance clear right from the beginning:

“THAT NEARLY twenty years of anti-sweatshop activism has come to naught is suggested by the cost breakdown of a $38 University of Connecticut hoodie that appeared in the Hartford Courant a couple of years ago: the workers received a mere 18 cents, while the university received $2.24 in licensing fees. (Mexican factory: profit, 70 cents; overhead, $2.12; material, $5.50–distributor [Champion]: overhead $5.10; profit $1.75–Seller [UCONN Co-Op]: overhead, $14.49; profit, $4.50). The workers’ share could hardly have been lower when the movement began.”

Ballinger continues on with a thorough analysis of what has taken place in the last 20 years regarding the anti-sweatshop activism, but he sums it all up in the end by calling this movement, so far, as a “failure.”  Back in the early 1990s, Ballinger got the ball rolling and the conversation started, but as one of the most passionate and documented labor activists of our time, it is hardly surprising that he is still a large part of this ongoing, and possibly unending, conversation.

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5 thoughts on “Some Things Never Change

  1. In the Nike case, Ballinger was by far my favorite character. I am glad to hear that he is still fighting for those who need a voice. In addition, Jim Keady devotion to quick his job to make a stance really shows a lot about his firm belief in Nike’s international policies. Overall, I really like how these both now work together to fight against sweatshops. In addition, I watched a portion of the video on the site and it provides information and actual footage that really brings to life what Nike is doing.

  2. It’s quite remarkable that Ballinger is still fighting sweatshops today. However, is he making any progress? He seems to have failed to make the transition of spreading his activism through social media, which is problematic as that is probably the best medium to champion his cause.

  3. Sweatshop labor is one of the worst things we allow to exist on this Earth. The fact that we as a nation allow companies on our soil to outsource jobs and treat their laborers like complete crap. It’s ridiculous and is nearly parallel to slave labor. It’s good to hear that Ballinger is still fighting the good fight. 20 years of activism against sweatshop labor is incredible. It’s obvious, especially with social media today, that they can spread the word and end this once and for all.

  4. He is also a blogger at Huffington Post. Though not that active recently.

    I find the cost break down absolutely fascinating. You could double, double! what a worker gets and would the corporate profits fall or would consumers not buy a shirt $0.18 more expensive?!?!? TO borrow the title of another post, are you f***ing kidding me?

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