Struggling for workers' rights in Sri Lanka
Sheran's experience of working for a Nike supplier
The Chosen, Nike's new global 'Just Do It' campaign says it will bring sports to the grassroots and represents the 'passing of the torch to the next generation'. However, The Chosen does not seem to include passing more of the company's profits onto the grassroots by paying workers making its products a living wage.
Sheran* works as a dispatch operator for a Nike supplier in Sri Lanka, earning Rs11,000 (£64) for his basic wage per month. 'I definitely couldn't survive' he replied, when asked about being able to meet his basic needs and those of his family on his basic salary. 'I have to work overtime - I work about 60 hours a week in total. Accommodation, excluding bills, and childcare alone costs Rs 4500 (£25) a month.'
In contrast to these poverty wages, Nike reeled in a staggering £5.4 billion in profits for 2010, but the company still refuses to include a living wage standard in its code of conduct for suppliers. In Sri Lanka, the living wage has been estimated at Rs23,500 (£131) per month, that's less than the cost of a single Nike Mercurial Vapor Superfly III football boot, as worn by Cristiano Ronaldo, and costing £280 a pair. Without workers like Sheran making Nike products, there wouldn't be the capital to run The Chosen or pay out huge sponsorship fees.
Sheran is employed on a permanent contract, which is unusual for sportswear workers in the industry, and his employer has provided training on health and safety. 'I get 14 days paid leave in a whole year, but no paid sick leave,' Sheran said.
Nike suppliers should comply with the brand's code of conduct, and this code also serves to inform workers about their rights. 'The code is displayed in English and not in Sinhala,' Sheran told us, 'I can read some English, but I can't understand everything in the code'. This means that Sheran may not know if some of his workplace rights are being violated. And if his or others' rights are violated, there is no trade union in the factory to represent the workers. Nike's code states that the contractor should respect the right of employees to freedom of association, including the right to form and join a trade union.
The Chosen, according to Nike, is a new voice for Just Do it. And 'Nike Responsibility' states 'Our greatest responsibility as a global company is to play a role in bringing about positive systemic change for workers within our own supply chain, and in the industry'.
Achieving positive systemic change means listening to the voices of workers and taking a positive approach to the human right to join or form a trade union. For starters, Sheran said, 'I'd like an increase in my basic pay, paid sick leave, and better paid holiday provisions'. Crucially, he says, 'The best way to achieve these changes is through collective bargaining'.
You can support the struggles of workers like Sheran for Decent Work by getting involved in the Playfair 2012 campaign and taking the action which calls on Adidas, Nike and Pentland (makers of Speedo) to pay a living wage; respect the right to form/join a union, have no forced overtime, and provide job security.
*The worker interviewed did not want his real name or any related photographic images used. This interview was carried out by the TUC and Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Trade Union in Sri Lanka as part of a joint project.
Issued: 8 July, 2011