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Indonesian Nike Factory Turns Away Jesse Jackson Sports Shoe Company Claims Civil Rights Leader Biased

Sun., July 21, 1996

Nike rebuffed Jesse Jackson’s attempt to tour one of its sports shoe factories Saturday, saying it didn’t want to give him a “bully pulpit” to attack the company.

The American civil rights leader is visiting Indonesia to draw attention to complaints that Nike and other foreign companies are exploiting workers who are paid as little as $1.90 a day.

Activists have seized upon inequities in the wages paid to foreign workers making products for the U.S. market. Some of America’s largest retailers sell items produced in sweatshops.

Nike’s rejection contrasted sharply with the response by its competitor Reebok, which flew an executive to Jakarta from Boston on Friday to give Jackson a factory tour.

In a toughly worded letter, Nike international trade counsel Brad G. Figel said the company was committed to ensuring its contractors treated workers fairly and allowed “unbiased observers” to visit its facilities frequently.

“Unfortunately, our previous experience with the Rainbow Coalition (led by Jackson) leads us to believe that your visit would lack that unbiased approach. It is not our desire to open our contract factories merely to provide a bully pulpit to someone who fails to provide a neutral viewpoint regarding the issues,” Figel’s letter said.

Jackson released a copy of it to reporters.

Late Saturday, he went to a factory outside Jakarta run by Nike contractor PT Garuda Indonesia. He wasn’t allowed in, but gave the manager a letter addressed to Nike chairman Philip Knight.

“We call upon you and Nike Inc. to recognize the basic right of workers for free association into unions for their own protection and advancement,” Jackson’s letter said.

Jackson and his delegation of U.S. civil rights activists and labor organizers joined hands in a circle and prayed outside the factory gatehouse before leaving.

Labor and human rights activists criticize the government of President Suharto for allowing only one labor union. Independent labor leaders who demand better pay and working conditions are jailed and harassed.

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