Nike and child labour Nike is a household name when it comes to sports apparel and equipment. It has worked hard to burnish its image, especially by garnering endorsements from big names in the sports world,such as Michael Jordan. But in 1996 its silver image began to tarnish. It knew it was in trouble when an article on child labour in Pakistan appeared in Life magazine with a picture of a 12-year-old boy sewing a Nike soccer ball in a factory, and activists started showing up in front of Nike outlets holding posters with the boy’s picture on it.
Although child labour is illegal in Pakistan, the law is not enforced and child labour is widespread. The factory in question was not run by Nike, but by a subcontractor or supplier. Nonetheless,Nike was held responsible by many,especially in the US and Canada. One immediate result was a ,,Boycott Nike” movement, which has continued to monitor and report on Nike’s actions. Nor was the report from Pakistan an isolated incident for Nike. Also in 1996, CBS’s 48 Hours reported on working conditions in Vietnam, featuring Nike and the abuses of workers who made some of Nike’s prosucts.
Since 1996, Nike has been charged by critics with engaging in a variety of unethical employment practices in countries that exercise little or no control over the conditions of labour or whose governments are corrupt and can be bought off. For Nike had and continues to have a reputation for producing its products in less developed countries, known for the cheapest labour and the laxest law enforcement, including China, Viet Nam, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
At Nike’s invitation, the Viet Nam Labour Watch conducted a six-month investigation and its report details discrepancies between what Nike told American customers and what the group itself uncovered. One significant item in the report is the statement that non-Nike shoe factories the group visited in Vietnam had better working conditions and paid haigher wages. In 1998 , Nike pledged to make sure its factories adhered to acceptable labour practices and agreed to let labour and human rights groups inspect its facilities.
Yet its critics continued to track the company. In 2000, Victoria International Development Education Association (VIDEA) in Canada published a book of facts about Nike, which noted among other things that Nike, which paid its 80,000 Indonesian factory workers ten cents an hour,could double their wages at a cost of less than 20,000,000-the amount that Nike paid Michael Jordan for promoting its products. It paid $200 million to sponsor the Brazilian soccer team. VIDEA also claimed that the cost of making one pair of Nike running shoes was approximately $5. 0, although they retail for more than $100 and for as much as $189. The figures by themselves, of course, do not present the whole picture. However, at least on the surface they suggest exploitation of labour and a terrible disparity between manufacturing and advertising expenditures. In 2001, Nike’s CEO, Philip Knight ,claimed that the company’s policy with respect to the employment of child labour was ,,the highest in the world: 18 for footwear manufacturing, 16 for apparel and equipment. ‘ Nonetheless, he acknowledged that there were instances in which the company used contract factories abroad, where the policies had been violated. With respect to the company’s violations in Cambodia, violations reported by the BBC, Mr. Knight cited the fact that evidence of age could buy there for as little as $5 and that, following the charge, the company re-examined all employee records there. The reply did not satisfy critics. The athletic shoe company has been the centre of a controversy over its responsibility for the mistreatment of the workers who make its shoes.
Nike does not actually manufacture any of the athletic shoes it sells. Instead,Nike designs its shoes in Seattle,and then pays companies in developing countries (China, Indonesia, India, etc. ) to make the shoes according to these designs. These foreign supplier companies have directly mistreated and exploited their workers. Nike has claimed that it is not morraly responsible for this mistreatment, because the supplier companies caused the injuries of their employees. Thus, Nike itself did not cause the injuries.
Critics have responded that although it is true that Nike did not directly cause the injuries, Nike could have prevented those injuries by forcing its suppliers to treat their workers humanely. If it is true that Nike had the power to prevent the injuries, and should have done so, then Nike met the first condition for moral responsibility. However, if Nike was truly powerless to prevent the injuries-if Nike had no control over the actions of its suppliers-then it did not meet the first condition.
People are morally responsible for an injury when they failed to prevent it, only if they ,,should have” prevented it. People cannot hold morally responsible for all the injuries they know about and fail to prevent. Each of us is not morally responsible for failing to save all the members of all the starving groups in the world that we learn about by reading the newspapers, even if we could have saved some of them. If we were morally responsible for all these deaths,then we would all be murderers many times over and this seems wrong.
A person is responsible for failing to prevent an injury only when, for some reason, the person had an obligation to prevent that particular injury. Such an obligation generally requires some sort of special relationship to the injury or the injured party. For example, if I know I am the only person near enough to save a drowning child, and I can do so easily, then m special physical relationship to the child creates in me an obligation to save the child and so I am morally responsible for the child’s death if I fail to prevent it.
Or if I am a police officer on duty and see a crime thet I can easily prevent, then, because it is my job to prevent such crimes, I have a specific obligation to prevent this crime and I am morally responsible if I fail to do so. Employers likewise have a special oblgation to prevent work injuries on their employees and so are morally responsible for any foreseen work injuries they could hav prevented. The second requirement for moral responsibility is concerned with the agent’s knowledge of the relevant aspects in a situation. The person must know what she is doing.
If a person is ignorant of the fact that her actions will injure someone else, then she cannot be morally responsible for that injury. A person may be ignorant of either the relevant facts the relevant moral standards. I may be sure that bribery is wrong (a moral standard), but may not realize that in tipping a customs official I was actually bribing him into cancelling certain import fees(a fact). In contrast, I may be genuinely ignorant that bribing government officials is wrong (a moral standard), altough I know taht in tipping the customs official I am bribing him into reducing the fees I owe (a fact).
Ignorance, however, does not always excuse a person. One exception occurs when a person deliberately stays ignorant of a certain matter to escape responsibility. If Nike managers told their suppliers that they did not want to know what was going on in their factories, they would still be morally responsible for whatever mistreatment went on that they could have prevented. A second exception occurs a person negligently fails to take adequate steps to get information about a matter that has its own importance.
A manager is an asbestos company, who has reason to suspect that asbestos may be dangerous, but who, out of laziness, fails to gather information on the matter, cannot plead ignorance as an excuse. The third requirement for moral responsibility: The person must act of his own free will. Someone acts of his own free will when the person acts deliberately or purposefully and his actions are not the result of some uncontrollable mental impulse or external force.
A person is not morally responsible if he causes injury because he lacked the power, skill, opportunity. Nor is a person morally responsible when physically forced to inflict an injury on someone else. The same when the agent is physically restraint from doing something to prevent the injury, nor when a person’s mind is psychologically impaired in a way that prevents her from controlling her actions. An employee may injure a fellow worker when a machine he thought he knew how to operate suddenly veers out of his control.
A manager working under extremely stressful circumstances may be so tense that one day he is overcome by rage at a subordinate and genuinely is unable to control his actions toward the subordinate. An engineer who is part of a larger operating committee may be unable to prevent the other committee members from making a decision that the engineer feels will result in injury to other parties. An assembly-line worker with an un diagnosed malady may suffer muscle spasms that cause the assembly line to malfunction in a way that inflicts physical injuries on other workers.
In all of these cases, the person is not morally responsible for the wrong or the injury, because the person did not choose the action deliberately or purposefully, but was forced to inflict the injury by a mental impairment or some uncontrollable external forces. We can distinguish three types of factors that can lessen a person’s moral responsibility:first, we should consider circumstances that minimize,but don’t completely remove a person’s involevement in an act that caused or brought about an injury.
This kind of circumstances affects the degree to which the person actually caused or helped to cause the injury. An engineer may be aware of the unsafe features in somebody else’s design,but passively stand by without doing anything about it because ,,that’s no my job’’. In general,the less one is morally responsible for that outcome. Certain circumstances leave a person uncertain, but not altogether unsure about a variety of matters (facts, moral standards, seriousness of the wrongdoing etc. ). This king of circumstances affects the person’s knowledge.
An office worker who is asked to carry proprietary information to a competitor might fell fairly sure that doing so is wrong, yet may also have some genuine uncertainty about how serious the matter is. Finally, there are circumstances that make it difficult but not impossible for the person to avoid doing it. This kind of circumstance affects the person’s free will. Sometimes, middle managers meet intense pressure or threts or to keep certain health information secret from workers or the public, although it is clearly unethical to do so.
If the pressures on managers are great enough, then their responsibility correspondingly diminishes. The extent to which these three mitigating circumstances can diminish a person’s responsibility for a wrongful injury depends on the seriousness of the wrong. Supposing that I have a firm and my employer threatens to fire me unless I sell a used product that I know will kill someone,it would be wrong for me to obey him,even though loss of a job will impose heavy costs on me.