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.