Nike rep, activist discuss brands, labor

Manni Balignasay

Misconceptions and the labeling of brand names were the main points of a debate last night between a representative of the Nike Athletic Corporation and a labor activist.

Simon Prestridge, a Nike communications representative, and Naomi Klein, journalist and author, debated in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union. The debate was presented by the Murray Bacon Center for Business and Ethics Lecture.

The two participants discussed labor in developing countries and multinational corporations for about two hours.

The debate consisted of two 30-minute presentations from Prestridge and Klein, followed by a 10-minute question-and-answer session from both.

Prestridge expressed a “heartfelt apology” on behalf of Nike for producing an ad that was offensive to many disabled people.

He then said the public had “a lot of misconceptions of Nike that have been presented by the media,” one of which was that a $100 pair of Nike shoes costs less than $25 to make.

Prestridge said while Nike has been accused of poor labor practices in its factory locations outside of the United States, it is working to clean up its image.

“Nike has initiated a voluntary code of conduct for its workers in foreign countries,” he said.

Prestridge said Nike makes its products in more than 700 factories in more than 20 different countries, and the company was plagued by a report that Vietnamese women were passing out in their factories.

“We should be measured by how we react, not the fact that it happened,” he said.

Activist Klein said Nike is a “metaphor for a global economy.”

Klein spent a good portion of her time speaking about the labeling of brand names in today’s economy, and she used the Nike Corporation as her prime example.

“Nike is a hollow corporation,” she said. “They are selling brands, not products.”

Nike’s voluntary code of conduct is a “privatization of labor rights turned into industry,” Klein said. She said the company is not allowing its workers to organize and form unions in foreign countries, which forces laborers to continue working without freedoms many Americans take for granted.

Klein also talked about the company’s influence on American culture.

“[The] Nike swoosh is the most popular tattoo in America,” she said. “Michael Jordan is the most famous man in the world because of Nike.”