As a new school year begins at the Academy, Gilmour students are reminded to embrace the Mission: “To develop the competence to see and the courage to act in creating a more humane and just society.” While Mission-related actions can be seen in how students treat each other, and how they invest time and energy into projects that aim to help people, one Mission-related practice may need additional review: buying power.
While the Gilmour Community aims to live by its Mission, right now, Gilmour may be unknowingly going against everything the Mission statement represents by supporting Nike.
Founded in 1964, the company Blue Ribbon Sports was officially named Nike in 1971. The name Nike refers to the Greek goddess of Victory. Going by its name, Nike has proved to be victorious in its niche market globally, but as we peel off the layers of Nike, it is made clear that Nike is really not victorious at all.
The Victorious Illusion of Nike
First, how does Gilmour view Nike as a brand? Mr. Dan DeCrane, Assistant Director of College Counseling and Head Coach-Varsity Boys Basketball, said that people associate the Nike “swoosh” with success. When you look at the famous athletes in our world, like Lebron James, you immediately think “Nike”, and that is intentional. Mr. DeCrane further noted that the way Nike has branded itself over the past few decades has been very strong and influential and from a quality standpoint, Nike is considered great quality and affordable.
All you have to do is take a glance at any of Gilmour’s athletic facilities and you will see the swoosh logo marked on backpacks, water bottles, clothes, and even walls. This is just the issue: Nike has painted the picture of fame, fortune, and success, but just like a beautiful piece of painted glass that is admired by all, it will begin to crack under pressure.
The Dark Reality of Nike
Mr. Richard Doringo, Instructor of Social Studies, and Dr. Linda Monitello, Instructor of Theology, discussed Nike’s dark side:
Mr. Doringo said, “I’m not thrilled with Nike’s record on the production of their shoes and clothing. Since they were the biggest and most popular, they were really the first sports clothing company to come under fire for using sweatshop labor in different parts of the world, mostly Asia… this type of sweatshop labor/production has been going on since the 1970s, when factories began moving overseas in earnest.”
Mr. Doringo continued to note that other companies began to move factories overseas in the 1970s to find cheaper labor in other parts of the world but “The key problem is the wages in these factories. Nike and others have tried to distance themselves from this by ‘subcontracting’ the work to companies that they don’t exactly own, even though all those factories make Nike products. This way, Nike can say that they try to set standards, but these factories (the subcontractors) set their own wages, working conditions, etc. and there is nothing Nike can do. Of course, that’s not true. Nike has great power to convince these factories to do better. However, that would defeat Nike’s real goal, which is to pay the absolute cheapest wages possible.”
After viewing a video about what was occurring with the Uighur Muslims, Grunden (’21) was disgusted with how the Uighurs were being treated. She also felt distressed to think that Gilmour as a whole may be unknowingly supporting a brand that has potentially condoned this treatment toward other humans.
Mr. Doringo had this to say:
“The entire situation of the Uighurs in China has been appalling. They have been stripped of any rights and many have been forced into what has been called ‘re-education’ camps, but are really more like work prisons. The Uighurs, according to recent reports have been used as a source of basically slave labor for different purposes by the Chinese government. It is a major violation of human rights that has not been challenged enough by the rest of the world. Nike has been cited as one of the companies that benefit from Uighur forced labor. Apple and other computer companies have, too.”
Dr. Monitello was also aware of the issue and expressed similarly to Mr. Doringo that “some social justice advocates believe that, by not being more careful in vetting its suppliers, Nike is complicit in the abuse of these people.”
Dr. Montiello, Mr. Doringo, Mr. Decrane, and Maggie Grunden all agreed upon the fact that from a human rights perspective, one should approach these issues from two vantage points: awareness and advocacy.
Mr. Doringo explained that “the first, awareness, is to become as knowledgeable about the situation as possible. Second, a key part of advocacy is bringing that awareness to others and making a plan to help the situation. Nike is a great example. When stories began to surface in the 1990s, many groups began to try to create awareness through public campaigns. Then they began to form coalitions to try to pressure Nike and other companies to make a change. Many colleges, for example, stopped making contracts with Nike to supply shoes and uniforms to their teams. This really did have an impact, though there is a long way to go. It seems as though the only way that injustices like this will actually change is if the entire Western world (North America, Europe, etc.) change out consumer habits. Ultimately, one reason why Nike and other companies operate in violation of people’s rights and welfare may be because Western countries demand relatively inexpensive clothing. Nike, like many other companies, is driven by profits, and they must know they can rely on Western consumers to buy their products, regardless of how they make them. It will take a mass movement to really change these conditions.”
Dr. Monitello said, “There are websites and apps that can help. I like the app Good On You. After we analyze our findings, we should make informed choices about what to buy. Gilmour is a Fair Trade-designated school, which means that we should have ethically sourced options as much as we can.”
In black and white terms, the debate over ethics and convenience would seem to have people steer away from companies that exploit workers worldwide. But Nike, a brand that has infiltrated sports teams, schools, and lives around the globe has truly made people entertain the idea that convenience might take priority over ethics.
Based on these findings, it appears that the Uighur Muslims and many other people in small countries are being exploited by companies like Nike for cheap labor. If this is true, then it is possible that the majority of the Western World, by supporting Nike, is perpetuating the vicious cycle.
Mr. DeCrane emphasized in his interview that “awareness must come first.” Through this article, we have become aware, so I ask you Gilmour Academy, what next?