By Anne Rittman Hoya Staff Writer

After visiting Nike factories around the world this semester as part of an initiative to involve the vocal student population in the manufacturing procedures of collegiate apparel contracted by apparel clothing magnate Nike, students from 14 colleges including Georgetown submitted a formal report of their findings to the corporation this week.

Karim Chrobog (SFS ’01) participated in this invitation to monitor Nike factories along with a team of PricewaterhouseCoopers inspectors contracted by Nike. Traveling to the Dominican Republic over spring break, Chrobog participated in the audits of two Nike Team Sports contract factories specializing in the production of baseball caps for “several major American brand labels,” according to Chrobog’s report.

“Students have been the loudest critics [of sweatshop labor],” said Chrobog. “Nike is taking a step to include students by showing them factories.”

While Chrobog did indicate specific violations of both Nike’s Code of Conduct and Dominican labor law in his report, he also said that “the sanitary and safety conditions deserve particular praise.”

“[The locals] prefer to work for Nike,” Chrobog said. “The sanitary and safety conditions are really good, as well as the overall working conditions. They are paid at or above the local minimum wage.”

Chrobog also said the reality of the factories he visited failed to live up to the stereotypes abundant in the American media. “There is a big misconception about what factories are really like. Nike has been singled out because of the college controversy as a company that operates in sweatshops. The best I can do is to say that this topic has been based on rhetoric and false information. We all think there are bad conditions and they need to be remedied right away.”

The recommendations of the 14 students were presented to Nike and will be taken under advisement. A report will be issued by July 1 to explicate the company’s response and detail what action will be taken.

“I believe that things will change even in the next three months,” Chrobog said. “The violations classified as systematic noncompliance will be addressed immediately. Frankly, I believe conditions will improve because [students] have been there.”

According to Chrobog, Nike is currently working to solve the problem of mass personnel liquidation. “If they don’t improve, Nike will cut the contract with the factories,” he said.

Chrobog’s factory auditing experience occurred after a training seminar by the Pricewaterhouse auditors.

Arriving at the factory, Chrobog first met with the factory manager to assess what the auditing team wanted to accomplish first. After the meeting, they took a factory tour, visiting all parts of the factory including the infirmary, cafeteria and production area.

The largest segment of the factory visit was spent interviewing 25 randomly chosen workers representing a cross-section of the employee population. According to Chrobog, during the seven to eight-hour interview process, employees were asked questions such as if they were free to leave the factory after their shifts ended, if they were free to unionize, if they liked or disliked their jobs, if overtime was available and how many hours per day they worked, according to Chrobog.

Chrobog’s team discovered that unionizing could lead to firing in the factories, a practice which violates the Nike Code of Conduct. Factories also were found to liquidate their employee base annually to avoid paying legally-required seniority benefits, according to Chrobog’s report.

Additionally, Chrobog found that management appoints all of the workers’ representatives and does not compensate for training periods. Furthermore, according to Chrobog, most supervisors and workers were unfamiliar with the Nike Code of Conduct.

However, Chrobog’s report also shows that the factories showed no signs of child labor and paid overtime as well as regular wages in accordance with local laws. The factories also made documentation readily available to the inspectors.

“I was surprised that we had so much involvement in the auditing process,” Chrobog said. “We had total access to documents, every room in the factory and there were no limitations.”

While Chrobog described the conditions in the factories he visited as “on the worse end of the scale,” other students found differing conditions within the factories they visited. According to Jimmy Tran of Southern Methodist University, the factories he visited in the U.S. and Canada were “. clean and well-ordered. There was good communication between the management and workers. However, there was no system of promotions and the workers did not understand the Code of Conduct.”

According to Tran, these factories exhibited poor compensation levels. “A 70-year-old worker was making minimum wage,” Tran reported in a conference call Tuesday. Health and safety conditions also suffered, as blood-borne pathogens could be spread through shared manufacturing tools.

Chrobog said, “Many of the really bad factories are in the U.S., like California. Workers there are not being paid wages and are subject to forced overtime. By no means is everything perfect here [in the U.S.]. In many cases the workers are treated worse.”

According to Earl Carr, a student at the College of William & Mary who visited factories in China and Taiwan, the factories he visited showed no sign of underage workers or discrimination. any workers in the factories exhibited a “poor knowledge of the Code of Conduct,” and were not awarded overtime pay and suffered from verbal and physical abuse in Bangladesh; however, they were able to elect a representative committee, according to Carr’s testimony during a conference call.

The student committee also submitted global recommendations to Nike, including an increase in resources available, training of Pricewaterhouse to be more consistent in their audits and an increased number and duration of visits to factories. The student committee also strongly encouraged an increase in participation by non-governmental organizations in factory monitoring.

Pricewaterhouse auditors live locally near the factories they monitor and are contracted by Nike. “Pricewaterhouse is the right group to monitor factories,” said Chrobog. “They are good at accounting, monitoring and are familiar with the culture.”

Regarding Georgetown’s own involvement with contracting apparel in factories and the school’s recent switch to affiliation with the Workers’ Rights Consortium, Chrobog says, “Both the [Fair Labor Association] and WRC are evolving. Whoever does the better job should go for it. The WRC needs corporate members to improve factories. Both [the FLA and WRC] should go head to head.”

Related Links

GU Leaves Fair Labor Association (3/28)

Solidarity Committee Delivers Ultimatum (3/24)

 365 Days Later, Revisiting 85 Hours (2/8)

 Sweatshop Battle Working Overtime (2/8)

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