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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 bullet.
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 sweatshops.
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 community".
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.