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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 15:34 GMT
Spotlight on Indonesian 'sweat shops'
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Nike sponsors top golfer Tiger Woods
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By Richard Galpin
BBC Jakarta Correspondent
Oxfam's latest report on Nike and Adidas factories in Indonesia says tens of thousands of employees are still living in extreme poverty and work in dangerous conditions.

It also says many live in fear of their employers.

The report, entitled We Are Not Machines, is based on interviews with more than 30 workers at Nike and Adidas factories in Java.

The aim was to assess whether there have been any significant improvements in conditions since Oxfam's first report was released more than 18 months ago.

That report alleged extreme abuse of workers' basic rights, including threats of violence against those taking part in industrial action.

'Workers' fear'

Oxfam's Tim Connor, who carried out the latest investigation, said the key issues to emerge this time were wages; union rights; and working conditions.

Nike factory in Bulgaria
Nike has contracts with about 700 factories worldwide
"Poverty and fear is still dominating the lives of Adidas and Nike workers in Indonesia," he said.

He said full-time wages as low as $2 a day do not give families enough to live on. He alleges active trade unionists fear losing their jobs or even being attacked.

"Workers still work in difficult and dangerous conditions," he said. "They're still shouted at when they work too slowly.

"Respiratory illnesses from inhaling toxic chemicals are still occurring, as are accidents in which workers lose fingers in cutting machines."

For those workers... the question is always the alternative - without that job, where would I go?

Rizal Mallarangen, Centre for Strategic and International Studies
Several of the factory workers who gave statements to Oxfam for the report also agreed to be interviewed by the media, but on condition their names were not used.

We spoke to one woman who for the past six years has worked at a factory just outside Jakarta supplying shoes for Adidas. She said the company often forced her and her colleagues to work overtime to meet production targets.

"We're not given any choice," she said. "If they say we can only go home at seven-thirty at night, then that's what we have to do.

"There are many examples of this. In one case, a mother whose child was sick was not allowed to leave early. She cried for an hour."

Despite this, most of the workers we spoke to said there had been some improvements in recent years.

"Since the international campaign began, conditions have got better," said one woman, who works in the sewing department of a Nike factory. "Before, it was very difficult to get permission to take our annual leave.

"But now we can get this."

'Job opportunities'

But not everyone in Indonesia is happy about the campaign against Nike and Adidas being pursued by human-rights activists, as there are fears it could scare away foreign investors.

"Workers in multi-national foreign companies in Asia are much better off than the workers working for domestic companies," said Rizal Mallarangen, a leading political economist at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta.

"For me, the first priority is stable income for the workers. Indonesia is a very poor country, it is in a crisis. There are millions of people without jobs.

"For those workers in these foreign factories, the multi-national factories, the question is always the alternative - without that job, where would I go?

"They will have to return to the slums, without any stable job, or go back to their villages without any land. So life for them will be much worse."

But Tim Connor of Oxfam said this missed the main point.

"The workers are being paid close to the lowest that's legally possible, and these particular companies are extremely profitable," he said.

"Between them, Nike and Adidas control 50% of the lucrative US sports shoe market, and Nike's net income last year was more than $500m.

"So companies of their size and profitability are in a far better position than other companies to ensure that workers have safe conditions and are paid enough to look after their children."

In the conclusion to its report, Oxfam Community Aid Abroad warns consumers they cannot be confident that sportswear produced by Nike and Adidas is made in decent conditions.

This is not something the companies would wish to hear at any time, but least of all, in the run up to the World Cup.

See also:

07 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Oxfam condemns sportswear giants
20 Dec 01 | Business
Nike sees earnings grow
04 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Athletes urged to rethink Nike ties
21 Jan 99 | Asia-Pacific
Nike slams Vietnam labour critics
05 May 00 | Americas
Nike cuts university funding
19 Oct 99 | Americas
Reebok criticises own factories
22 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Nike website is hijacked
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