Some companies do corporate social responsibility well. Danone is a food manufacturer and a B Corp that has a reputation for being a positive influence on the environment as well as the community. Some companies have not done as well. Nike has a history of behaving a way that is very predatory on its communities and laborers. After many years of scrutiny, Nike finally started working on corporate social responsibility, probably to improve its public relations. After falling from grace with society, Nike was still a popular shoe manufacturer, despite the global understanding that the products were made in sweatshops by a company based on exploiting its communities and labor force. For Nike, corporate social responsibility came late.
Nike in the 1980s and 1990s hit the headlines regarding human rights abuses and sweatshop scandals. Their rapid expansion into foreign countries, chasing lower labor rates and cheaper resources, drove them into underdeveloped countries in Asia. The company has a global presence, but is notorious for its manufacturing in Indonesia and other Asian countries. In the 1980s, Nike hired child labor and paid them fifteen cents and hour while working in poor conditions for eleven hours a day (Indonesia serves as Nike manufacturing capital, 1992). One of their biggest critics was Jeff Ballinger, from Press for Change, who wrote a report in 1991 about the wages and working conditions in the Nike factories in Indonesia. He wrote an exposé of Nike in Harper’s magazine in 1992 as well, triggering strikes, boycotts, and activism targeting Nike (Nisen, 2013). Their aggressive expansion happened with little concern for human rights, acceptable wage, child labor, drinking water, and clean air for workers in the factories. “The Nike product has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime, and arbitrary abuse,” said Knight (Lutz, 2015).
At first, Nike denied the claims of special interest groups, communities, and employees, who are some of their key stakeholders. In fact, Nike’s lawyers responded to investigative journalism with libel threats initially (Nike Chronology. Center for Communication & Civic Engagement). The executives at Nike denied claims of abuse and lashed out at critics (Bernstein, 2004), but eventually, Nike established a ‘Code of Conduct and Memorandum of Understanding’ for contractors (Nike Chronology. Center for Communication & Civic Engagement). In their code of conduct is the concept of “SHAPE,” meaning safety, health, attitude, people and environment.
Nike’s website says that its mission is “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” (Nike: Mission, n.d.). Nike’s purpose statement builds in some more values: “Our purpose is to unite the world through sport to create a healthy planet, active communities and an equal playing field for all” (Nike: Purpose, n.d.). The purpose.nike.com webpage is a site about diversity and equality. Its graphics and video highlight everything from windmills and eco-friendliness to health and wellness, while encouraging unity and cultural respect. They discuss responsible sourcing, environmental impact, and community action (Nike: Purpose, n.d.).
Nike’s corporate social responsibility has taken form to serve its key stakeholders (in order of priority): customers, communities, employees, governments, and interest groups. Nike gives top priority to its customers, followed by groups of communities, since consumers buy from companies that support community development (Kissinger, 2017). Ultimately, Nike is a company that works to make money, but it recognizes these key stakeholders in the process.
In conclusion, Nike was slow to focus on its key stakeholders and slow to adopt a corporate social responsibility plan and policy. It appears that they only did so as a reaction to stakeholder (customer, employee, community, special interest group) outrage at their willful abuse of foreign labor, communities, and resources. If it was not for the pressure for these stakeholders, Nike would not have changed. Although it looks beautiful, it is hard to believe that the purpose.nike.com site is genuine. It seems to be only a public relations stunt.
Kissinger, Daniel. (2017). Nike Inc. Stakeholders: A CSR Analysis. Retrieved from http://panmore.com/nike-inc-stakeholders-csr-analysis
Lutz, Ashley. (2015). How Nike shed its sweatshop image to dominate the shoe industry. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/how-nike-fixed-its-sweatshop-image-2015-6
Missing Author. (1992). Indonesia serves as Nike manufacturing capital. Post Bulletin, sourced from Knight-Ridder Newspapers/AP Wire. Retrieved from https://www.postbulletin.com/indonesia-serves-as-nike-manufacturing-capital/article_b324a7ec-5886-5d36-bdf3-4e6ed32a6115.html
Missing Author. (n.d.). Nike Chronology. Center for Communication & Civic Engagement. Retrieved from https://depts.washington.edu/ccce/polcommcampaigns/NikeChronology.htm
Nike: Mission. (n.d.). What is Nike’s Mission. Retrieved from https://www.nike.com/help/a/nikeinc-mission
Nike: Purpose. (n.d.). Purpose Moves Us. Retrieved from https://purpose.nike.com/
Nisen, Matt. (2013). How Nike Solved Its Sweatshop Problem. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/how-nike-solved-its-sweatshop-problem-2013-5