The Best Lies Money Can Buy copyright
1998 Bob Darby
In the spring of 1968, Dr. Martin Luther
King went to Memphis to join with public sanitation workers fighting
for their basic human dignity. On April 5, he was rewarded for
his devotion to the "least of these" with an assassin's
In the summer of 1997, former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young went
to China, Vietnam and Indonesia to "inspect" footwear
factories owned or subcontracted by the Nike Corporation. Young's
consulting firm, Goodworks International, won't say what the
former U.N. Ambassador was paid to whitewash Nike's infamous
Nike's shoe plant inspector was once among Dr. King's closest
aides; Andrew Young was present at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis
when the great civil rights leader was murdered. But times have
changed since 1968. These days Young is revered as the heir to
Dr. King as he preaches that the solution to global poverty and
oppression is found not in nonviolent confrontation but in corporate
boardrooms. The Global Marketplace is where we are to find the
new formulas for achieving Dr. King's dream of the "beloved
To pursue such a dream is why Nike says it has factories in
Indonesia, China and Vietnam. Nike is there not just to make
money but to persuade governments to embrace democratic values.
Hiring Mr. Young was a PR strategy to display Nike favorably
and to counter its reputation as an abuser of labor. For a fee,
Andrew Young reported what Nike wanted to hear. Their operations,
he said, were "overwhelmingly good".
But independent investigators of Nike's plants judge Nike's
operations to be overwhelmingly bad. Bob Herbert of the New York
Times wrote on June 27 that Young was at best "naive",
that he was deceived by the big shoe company. Mr. Herbert shows
how Young's tour of Chinese plants was carefully orchestrated
to conceal beatings, enforced overtime and starvation-level wages.
The good ambassador was not even allowed his own translators,
and the superficial "inspections" typically took less
than three hours. In one Vietnamese factory, Nike workers are
paid the equivalent of $1.50 a day - which is not a subsistence
wage, even in desparately poor Ho Chi Minh City. But the issue
of wages is not addressed in Young's report. That wasn't his
job, he says.
Dr. Anita Chan of the Campaign for Labor Rights, spent three
years investigating Nike factories. Many Nike workers in China
must put up a "deposit" equal to a month's wages simply
to be eligible for employment. If they quit before completing
a full year, they lose the deposit. These same workers are often
forced to work 12-hour shifts, toiling for many weeks before
getting any time off at all. Dr. Chan reports that laborers in
many Nike plants are routinely exposed to highly toxic glue solvents,
without protective gear or proper ventilation, putting them at
high risk of developing fatal illnesses. If Mr. Young knew about
these things he didn't include them in his report.
Andy Young is neither an industrial engineer nor especially
knowledgeable when it comes to making shoes. He was hired by
Nike solely for his illustrious name and cynically used to conceal
Nike business practices. Nike is typical of many corporations
that are closing their factories in rich democracies to relocate
in "undeveloped" countries with "authoritarian"
(criminal) governments, like those Young visited. Nike "offshores"
factories to avoid paying decent wages and benefits in countries
with lax or no environmental laws. If Indonesian, Chinese or
Vietnamese workers complain or try to unionize, they face homelessness,
jail or death. This is exactly the kind of workplace the corporate/profit
mentality prefers. If these nations were democratic, if they
had human rights policies, they wouldn't have corporations flocking
to their shores. The bottom line cares only about enriching the
already rich, and it spins the very best lies money can buy
to protect itself from scrutiny. Dr. Chan suggests that Nike
"took Young for a ride". Their purpose of course was
to use him to entice us along.
Dr. King lived and died serving those most in need. He suffered
for the outcast, he stood up for the weak and he died defending
the poor. In trying to serve two masters the Reverend Young
turned his back on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.