Jim Keady Tells Nike, "Don't Sweat It"

Look down at your feet. Are you wearing shoes? How much did they cost? What company made them? Now think, who actually made them, and for what price?

According to Jim Keady, over 90% of the things you wear are made in sweatshops around the world. Keady is a human rights activist that is most known for his relentless criticism of the unethical practices of Nike, the leading company in the global sportswear industry. He started his non-profit organization Team Sweat in order to formally address Nike’s ethical standards.

As Keady’s website reports, the basic wage for a Nike factory worker in Indonesia is between $1 and $3 per day. The global poverty level at which a person struggles to meet his or her basic needs while still maintaining dignity is roughly $2 per day, as determined by the United Nations and the World Bank. With their current wages, Nike workers are not even able to afford three meals a day, water, rent, medical care, or financial support for their families.

The exploitation of “cheap labor” and the undignified working and living conditions for Nike’s workers allow the multibillion-dollar company to spend less money and accumulate more profit. According to Keady, Nike has the largest profit margins in the sportswear industry. In 2008, it made $1.5 billion dollars. Nike manufactures its products in 52 countries and sells these products in over 160 countries. The company is clearly a leader in the industry and controls nearly 45% of the global market, as Keady points out.

Nike’s prominence is precisely why Keady focuses his work on demanding justice and fair wages for Nike workers. The entire global manufacturing industry tends to utilize sweatshops and cheap labor—Nike is not the only problem. Yet because of Nike’s global influence, Nike has the power to change the direction of business ethics and labor practices. Once Nike changes its standards, other companies will be pressured by consumers, workers, and investors to do so as well.

Keady is also personally invested in this cause. Keady was forced to resign from his position as a coach for St. John’s University after he refused to support a $3.5 million dollar endorsement deal between Nike and his athletic department that would have obligated Keady and his team to wear and promote Nike products. Keady then traveled to Indonesia with a friend in order to carry out an experiment: they would live as a Nike worker lives for one month, on the same meager wages and living conditions. As they listened to Nike workers’ stories of forced overtime, starvation, harassment, and violence, Keady and his friend found that leading a life of dignity on $1.25 was virtually impossible. His passion for social justice for Nike workers was further invigorated.

For the past several years, Keady has traveled throughout the United States, educating those who will listen about the reality of Nike’s business practices. He focuses especially on students as he continues to create a grass-roots movement to bring about social change. He also travels around the world, especially to Indonesia, in order to research and bring to light the real lives and conditions of sweatshop workers.

Keady encourages anyone and everyone to get involved in both his organization and in other efforts to promote social justice. One way to further activism is to contact Nike (or other unethical companies) and ask them to change their practices. Another way is to purchase “sweatfree” gear, which has been made by workers who earn fair wages.

Check out the Team Sweat website http://www.teamsweat.org/ in order to contact Nike, find ethical companies to support (including Keady’s EFT Fair Trade Co.), get text updates on Team Sweat, find events to attend, bring Team Sweat to your campus, or find other ways to get involved. Also, make sure to watch Keady’s video called “Behind the Swoosh” on his experiences in Indonesia and with Nike at http://vimeo.com/6109896.