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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Just Kind of Do it


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Back in the 1990’s, Nike’s business strategy revolved solely around profit. Phil Night denied responsibility, procrastinated proactive changes, and brushed off ethical decisions as a public relations issue. However, after 1998, Nike made drastic changes in their oversea working conditions and apparel industry as a whole after their sales dropped. Now, were they really committed to international human rights? Did their ethical practices hold up?

Nike Kind of Does It

As you can see, Nike stayed somewhat committed to preserving human rights.  When I first started reading this article, I was not surprised by the new Malaysian scandal of Nike taking passports and cutting wages of international employees. However, I was surprised at Nike’s ability to learn from their mistakes. Instead of denying responsibility, Nike now admitted to their breach in their code of conduct with their contractors. Twenty years ago, Phil Night would have claimed it was their contractors’ duty to pay attention to ethics of their employees and Nike does not need to worry about it. Now, they are accepting responsibility right off the bat and actually meeting with not only the one, but 30 other contractors in Malaysia to discuss enforcing labor standards.

But here, Nike still only reacted. As Tim Connor, a labor-rights activist from Oxam Australia, puts it, “we are looking for a systematic change that improves conditions across the supply chain, not solutions once problems are exposed.” Despite them accepting responsibility, Nike still allowed the working conditions to get that bad. Nike was reactive instead of proactive. They turned their heads until the public got involved. They only learned from their mistakes in the sense that negative public publicity hurts their sales and denying it only makes it worse. As a result, they quickly accepted responsibility in order to escape profit loss.  Just like in the 1990’s, Nike is still largely concerned with profit, but now they know how to manage it better.

Nevertheless, Nike still has implemented more ethical concerns into their business strategy. For example, Nike successfully has adopted a VP of Corporate responsibility that’s goal is to implement corporate responsibility into Nike’s operations. One successful team she manages is Nike’s Consideration Team that looks for innovating and sustainable designs to reduce environmental wastes. This team uses a computer program that calculates the environmental costs of a shoe design. While maintaining style, Nike has effectively created Green shoes that practically generate no waste through changing little technical designs and has saved over $800,000,000 worth of materials.

Overall, I believe Nike has improved their ethical practices since the 1990’s. However, I agree with Tim Connor that being reactive is not enough. As a leader in the industry, Nike needs to set the precedent that working conditions need to improve. They need to take proactive steps to ensure their contractors are holding up to their contracts. The public shouldn’t have to raise concerns for Nike to enforce international human rights.

Blog 6 Prompt: Where are they now?


Prompt 6: Where are they now?

For this week’s blog prompt you will be taking a second look at one of the companies or people we have already covered in class or one related to one we have studied.   In the past we looked at these companies from a historical perspective; however, what we want you to do this week is to look at where these companies or executives are now.  Did they learn from their mistakes or are they still engaged in unethical activities?  Has there been any initiatives taken so that previous mistakes are not repeated?  Or was their situation so dire that they are considered obsolete?

From the society and values side of the class, you can look at whether laws have changed, or social pressure, or media representations, or some other element of what we call social change.

In essence we want you to choose a company or a specific manager who had a major impact at the firm.   Then using your own ethical standards assess how this company or their executives have adjusted after they were accused for immoral practices.  Please use your blogging “muscle” to support your conclusions, such as rating, pics, and polls!

Be sure to use GOOD sources.  For examples, there is this page of news and blog resources on our blog.  This includes Global Issues in Context, an excellent resource you can ONLY GET through Bucknell.  It combines news, blogs, academic articles and so on.  Try putting your chosen case or organization in and see what you get.

Here are some examples to get the ball rolling… you can add to these.  If you do, please be sure to tell us how your example is linked to the original case or example we looked into.

  • Apple: Apple, Foxconn, Mike Diasey, This American Life
  • Nike: Michael Moore, Phil Knight, Jeremy Ballinger, Fair Labor Association, Reebok, adidas, the Aspen Institute
  • Enron: Arthur Anersen (and its partners), Skilling, Richard Causey, SOX law
  • Weekend: Goldman Sachs, Lehman Employees, Tim Geithner, Hank Paulson, Bernanke, Fannie Mae or Freddy Mac
  • Occupy or Tea Party
  • Housing Bubble: Mortgage originators.  Countrywide Financial.  Anything that has been done around trying to either be fairer about foreclosures or to help people avoid foreclosures (I think there may be some class action lawsuits…).
  • AIG: Hank Greenberg, Willumstad, AIG Financial Products Group, Office of thrift Supervision, Ratings Agencies
  • Dodd-Frank, the Volcker Rule, or the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

Title and Tag Line Contest!

In addition, we are also hosting a competition to see who can come up with the best new title and tag line for the blog!  The winner will be exempt from doing one question from the next weekly homework.  If you wish to participate, please post your suggestion as a comment on this post.  Best of luck!

Interesting Questions Paper 1 from Session 2 (Apple, Nike, Share/Stake, Globalization)


Interesting Questions

These are the questions Katilyn (THANK YOU!)  transcribed plus the ones we generated from Apple, plus a few in my head.  Feel free to use them as you like for paper 1 development.  These are on moodle too.

Is it stakeholder management to wait for problems? Continue reading