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?
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.