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It also means a type of expensive gym shoe. In the minds of the anti-globalisation movement, it stands for both at once. Nike stands for the victory of a Western footwear company over the poor and dispossessed.
Spongy, smelly, hungered after by kids across the world, Nike is the symbol of the unacceptable triumph of global capital. A Nike is a shoe that simultaneously kicks people out of jobs in the West, and tramples on the poor in the Third World.
So I was interested to hear someone not only praising Nike sweatshops, but also claiming that Nike is an example of a good and responsible business. That someone was the ruling Communist party of Vietnam.
Today Nike has almost four times more workers in Vietnam than in the United States. I travelled to Ho Chi Minh to examine the effects of multinational corporations on poor countries. Nike being the most notorious multinational villain, and Vietnam being a dictatorship with a documented lack of free speech, the operation is supposed to be a classic of conscience-free capitalist oppression.
In truth the work does look tough, and the conditions grim, if we compare Vietnamese factories with what we have back home. They compare the work at Nike with the way they lived before, or the way their parents or neighbours still work.
And the facts are revealing. Ten years ago, when Nike was established in Vietnam, the workers had to walk to the factories, often for many miles. After three years on Nike wages, they could afford bicycles. Today, the first workers can afford to buy a car. But when I talk to a young Vietnamese woman, Tsi-Chi, at the factory, it is not the wages she is most happy about.
Sure, she makes five times more than she did, she earns more than her husband, and she can now afford to build an extension to her house. For me, a Swede with only three months of summer, this sounds bizarre. Surely working conditions under the blue sky must be superior to those in a sweatshop?
But then I am naively Eurocentric. Farming means 10 to 14 hours a day in the burning sun or the intensive rain, in rice fields with water up to your ankles and insects in your face.
Even a Swede would prefer working nine to five in a clean, air-conditioned factory. Furthermore, the Nike job comes with a regular wage, with free or subsidised meals, free medical services and training and education. The most persistent demand Nike hears from the workers is for an expansion of the factories so that their relatives can be offered a job as well.
These facts make Nike sound more like Santa Claus than Scrooge.
It is not altruism that is at work here; it is globalisation. With their investments in poor countries, multinationals bring new machinery, better technology, new management skills and production ideas, a larger market and the education of their workers.
That is exactly what raises productivity. And if you increase productivity — the amount a worker can produce — you can also increase his wage. Nike is not the accidental good guy. On average, multinationals in the least developed countries pay twice as much as domestic companies in the same line of business.
If you get to work for an American multinational in a low-income country, you get eight times the average income. The effect on local business is profound: Why do the foreign factories here work well and produce much more?
So for the future factory we should concentrate on our working conditions. If there is a problem, it is that the wages are too high, so that they are almost luring doctors and teachers away from their important jobs.
With growing productivity it will also be possible to invest in education and healthcare for Vietnam.
Sincewhen the Vietnamese communists began to liberalise the economy, exports of coffee, rice, clothes and footwear have surged, the economy has doubled, and poverty has been halved.The Promise and Perils of Globalization: The Case of Nike Richard M.
Locke MIT Working Paper IPC July Through a case study of Nike, Inc. – a company that has come to symbolize both the benefits and the risks. Jul 11, · Globalization is a topic that is often debated controversally.
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