Athletic shoes used to be made in Massachusetts. Now they’re all made overseas; Nike’s come largely from Indonesia, where its workers* earn $4.00 per day, barely enough to pay rent, transportation, water, and two small bowls of rice and vegetables..
In the courses I teach on business ethics we wrestle with this question: is Nike’s behavior ethical? In Nike’s corner are those who believe what Milton Friedman wrote fifty years ago: that business’s only social responsibility is to increase profits while staying within the rules of the game. Their argument is buttressed by the fact that the workers take the jobs voluntarily, so they must think they’re better off than if they weren’t making Nikes.
On the other side of the argument are those who believe that it’s just not fair for Nike to sell a pair of shoes for $80 that cost roughly $16.25 to produce, including just $2.43 for labor. Were Nike to pay a decent wage to its Indonesian workers, say double the current rate, it would reduce its profit margin by only three per cent, from $63.75 per pair to $61.32.
One man, Jim Keady, has been hard at work for thirteen years selflessly trying to get Nike to treat its Indonesian workers decently. Jim has even lived in Indonesia on $4.00 per day to see if it’s really a “living wage.” It’s not.
Jim came by his passion to change Nike while studying theology at Saint John’s University, where he was fired from his job as assistant soccer coach (more…)