Abuse part of daily bread for Converse workers

Labour rights article written by Oxfam on the 29 Jul 2011

Women making Converse sneakers at the Pou Chen Group factory in Sukabumi have been kicked, slapped and taunted by their supervisors, reveals the Associated Press, July 13 2011, Indonesia.

“They growl and slap us when they get angry,” a 23-year-old worker told AP journalists “it’s part of our daily bread”.

Workers who spoke with the Associated Press requested that their identities remain undisclosed for fear of reprisals. “Our only choice is to stay and suffer, or speak out and be fired,” one woman explained.

Workers at another Converse factory near Jakarta, PT Amara Footwear, also claimed to have experienced ongoing abuse. One group of workers were forced to stand for 2 hours under the sun for failure to meet their production targets.

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Nike, who took over Converse in 2003, has admitted that the two factories are sites of “serious and egregious” physical and verbal abuse. Yet the footwear giant claims to have limited influence over Converse suppliers due to pre-existing licences.

Labour advocates are sceptical of this claim and point out that the Sukabumi factory began producing Converse shoes four years after Nike took over the company. Many observers believe that when it comes to implementing workplace rights, Nike has taken far too long to just do it as thousands of workers face experience abusive working conditions and below minimum wages at Pou Chen and other Converse suppliers.

Based on Nike’s own investigations almost two thirds of the 168 factories making Converse have failed to meet Nike’s codes of conduct. Nike says it is now taking “decisive action” to address the abuse in the two factories, including implementing a confidential grievance process for workers and additional training for supervisors and managers.

The company has also committed to release all the locations of all affiliate brand supplier factories, including Converse, by the end of 2011.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese based manufacturing company Pou Chen has also come under the spotlight after thousands of workers went on strike to protest low wages at one of their subsidiary factories in Vietnam (see 90,000 workers strike at adidas supplier). Pou Chen has factories in China, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Americas. Apart from Nike and Converse and has manufactured for international brands such as Nike, adidas, Reebok, Asics, New Balance, Puma, Merrell, Salomon and Timberland.

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Although Nike took over Converse 8 years ago, the company has been slow to recognise the rights of workers’ making Converse shoes.


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Read more

Read the Associated Press report which details worker abuse at Converse suppliers in Indonesia.

Image Credit: istock/OxfamAUS