Home Opinion OPINION: Nike’s new Kaepernick ad doesn’t make up for its troubled history

OPINION: Nike’s new Kaepernick ad doesn’t make up for its troubled history

7 min read
Colin Kaepernick at a football game.

Opinion Writer Maddie Kramer explores Nike’s previous controversies before the commercial with Colin Kaepernick and the real reason people should be boycotting the company.

Former NFL athlete Colin Kaepernick and apparel company Nike were both back in the news early September with the release of a new “Just Do It” commercial. Neither parties are strangers to controversy, as Kaepernick made headlines in 2016 protesting police brutality while on the football field, while Nike has been under scrutiny for its use of sweatshops and unethical labor practices in the past.

However, now the company is earning itself a lot of praise due to their viral commercial. It is important to remember the Indonesian workers that are suffering during Nike’s gain.  

The commercial consists of the usual “Just Do It” sentiment, focusing on being the best athlete in the sport with tennis champion Serena Williams and basketball icon LeBron James making cameos. The most popular clip happens more than halfway through, when Kaepernick reveals himself to be the narrator and says, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

The commercial had a mixed reception — Kaepernick was always a controversial athlete because of his political activism, however, this commercial has resulted in extreme responses. Several people have posted pictures and videos of them cutting up or even burning their Nike merchandise.

Despite the backlash, the commercial has benefitted Nike. Many of those who support Kaepernick have responded by buying Nike’s products. This has resulted in Nike’s shares increasing by 36 percent and the company’s market value increasing by $6 billion.

While many may choose to support Nike now more than ever because of Kaepernick’s involvement, it is important to remember Nike’s complicated past with human rights.

In 2011, a documentary called “Behind the Swoosh” provided shocking insight into the living conditions of a Nike factory worker in Indonesia. The documentary follows Jim Keady, a former soccer coach at St. John’s University, as he travels to Indonesia to understand firsthand what it is like to live on a Nike wage.

Keady lived in Tangerang, Indonesia for a month in a small cement house with other factory workers, in what is called a “worker’s slum.” These are rows of houses around 9 feet by 9 feet in size that have a communal kitchen, washing area, and bathroom to be shared with anywhere from five to ten families. The toilet empties directly into an open sewer directly outside the homes.

While Keady was not granted access to the Nike factory to actually go in and work, he lived just as his neighbors did off their salary. When Keady was living in Indonesia in 2000, the daily wage was $1.25. He had $0.47 left to use after rent.

Keady explained that to buy shaving cream and a razor at a local market, he had to sacrifice enough money for three meals. He lost 25 pounds while living in Indonesia for one month. But Keady was able to return to America and recover. For the Indonesian workers, there is no escape.

While the wage has increased over time, Nike still has room for improvement. In 2015, the wage for a factory worker was around $0.50 per hour. The average daily compensation was $3.50. After paying for rent, this still leaves workers with next to nothing for day to day living expenses.

Despite the shockingly low income, the workers need the jobs to survive. Many work overtime to have a little extra money to care for their families. Even with overtime, many parents cannot afford to send their children to school. The parents are working for simply enough money to eat, one of the most basic human needs.

Nike needs to step up and address this crisis. With their stock and market value at a record high for the company, it would seem that they have enough income to pay their factory workers a true living wage. Keady addresses that a living wage should “allow a worker to pay for food, clothing, housing, healthcare, education, some modest savings, and modest recreation.” As he illustrates during his month living in Indonesia, this is not possible with Nike’s wage.

Americans are already boycotting Nike for the commercial. Why aren’t more boycotting because of the human rights abuses?

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