Today, Ralph Nader and the sports reform project League of Fans sent a letter to NBA star LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers asking him to help improve conditions for the workers who make the Nike products he endorses. The letter follows.
March 21, 2007
Dear Mr. James:
Congratulations on your continued success as one of the NBA’s elite players. Perhaps basketball fans across the world will be able to watch you and the Cavs in the Finals very soon.
As someone who participates in many generous charitable activities, we hope you will be responsive to this appeal.
When last we wrote you in December, 2003 regarding your relationship with Nike and with the workers who produce the Nike products you endorse, you were just one month into your rookie season and six months into your reported 7 year, $90 million contract with Nike. Neither you nor your agent replied to our letter.
Since that time, Nike has admitted, through self-monitoring, that its contracted factories are places where extraordinarily low wages, physical and sexual abuse, restrictions of bathroom use and other human rights abuses take place. Finally acknowledging problems that worker’s rights advocates have been exposing for well over a decade is a responsible step for Nike, as is its important disclosure of factory locations. But this acknowledgment and disclosure does not mean the problems are being addressed.
As we expressed in our previous letter, Nike products are synonymous with sweatshops in developing nations, and the company still chooses to maximize profits on the backs of workers who live in poverty and whose human rights are unprotected. We ask that you support justice for these people.
Mr. James, pro athletes are not unlike most people in this country who tend not to believe that they have the power to influence change. Some, however, know they have the power but are afraid that speaking out publicly could disrupt their positions personally, professionally, commercially, or in the media.
But there are others. For example, athletes like Etan Thomas, Steve Nash, Carlos Delgado, Martina Navratilova, Adonal Foyle, Adalius Thomas, Josh Howard, Adam Morrison and others have all raised their voices against the war and occupation of Iraq.
Stephon Marbury has spoken out in a different way. Through direct action, Marbury has launched his own basketball sneaker, which retails for about $15. He has challenged the entire basketball sneaker industry, in part, to present inner-city kids with an affordable (yet still stylish and well-made) alternative to the $150 shoes that you and others endorse. That Marbury’s shoes, produced by Steve and Barry’s, are made in China suggests it is likely they are manufactured under sweatshop factory conditions, given that independent trade unions are illegal in China. Hopefully Marbury’s efforts toward positive change will soon lead him to address worker’s rights as well.
Mr. James, as someone who enjoys unsurpassed commercial influence and with it, great negotiating power, you are in a unique position to stand up for the people who make the products you endorse. We urge you to let Nike know that you support the rights of those workers by demanding that:
– Nike insist its contractors pay a living wage, under safe working conditions, that allows workers to meet their basic needs, and that Nike pay contractors enough to do this;
– Nike insist its contractors recognize independent unions and that factory management collectively bargain with these unions in good faith; and
– Nike agree to a program of factory monitoring through international unions and human rights organizations that are credible and completely independent of Nike.
You have a chance to make an impact around the world not just with your basketball playing ability, but for your generosity as a human being in helping to improve working conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers.
We look forward to your response. Should you or your agent require more than a letter to respond, we can arrange for two of the workers from Nike factories overseas to travel to the U.S. and meet with you personally so they can convey their eyewitness accounts. Please let us know by April 16, 2007.
League of Fans
CEO, LRMR Marketing