Nike Sweatshops: Behind the Swoosh is a documentary that tells a story of a former soccer coach at St. John’s who gets involved in the fight against the exploitation of workers in Indonesia by Nike. The documentary is short and impactful.
The beginning of the documentary introduces the former soccer coach of St. Johns named Jim Keady. He talks about how growing up he wanted to get into the stock market and make lots of money. Images of New York City play while as the song “Testify” by Rage Against the Machine is heard in the background. We are presented with a man who is ambitious, gets involved in soccer and becomes the coach of St. Johns College. He studies Catholic Socialism which involves studying exploitation. He learns that one of the biggest exploiters of third world countries is Nike. Around this time, St. Johns begins negotiating a 3.5 million dollar endorsement deal with Nike. This would mean he would have to support Nike who he feels goes against what Catholithism is about. Right away, the documentary is getting to the heart of the conflict within two and half minutes.
He is shown on ESPN protesting this endorsement. He was later fired in 1998 for not supporting the endorsement. He is told that he doesn’t know what he is talking about and the Third World workers like their jobs so he decides to go there to find the truth. The documentary shows images of factory workers assembling shoes. The documentary keeps up the fast paced while still engaging the audience.
He meets up with a college friend named Lisa and the two go to Indonesia to find out the truth. They decide to live like Nike workers: live in the slums and only live off of the $1.25 daily wages the workers are paid. The image of a Nike billboard in the background with barbed wire in the foreground was very striking. It was a subtle jab at Nike. The conditions of where they live are deplorable. They live in an 8 x 8 room; they sleep on a hard concrete floor, open sewers all around the building, rats coming into their room as well as cockroaches. Some of the workers there have it worse. Some families have to share bathrooms, water, and a kitchen with up to 5 families. The working conditions for the workers are bad as well. They are similar to what Chris Meyer wrote in a piece called “Wrongful Beneficence: Exploitation and Third World Sweatshops.” The $1.25 in wages doesn’t go very far. It basically pays for rent, water, utilities, 2 meals a day, ice tea, and some detergent in Indonesia. There is nothing left for healthcare, insurance, or retirement. The information on how much the wages gets the workers really hits me. The thought of living off of such little wages seems impossible. The documentary really hits this idea home. The audience no doubt feels for these workers.
Both lose weight and have no energy while living there and show one of them being sick. The documentaries documentary’s fast pace slows down a bit during this part. This rams the message home on just how hard it is to live there. Images of shoe rubber being burned where kids are playing hits the heart strings as well.
The two decide to go to the Nike corporate offices to talk Nike representatives about the conditions of the workers. They are told there is no one who wants to talk to them. The documentary does a good job of showing the corporate people at Nike and the PR people as uncaring people in this scene. Nike, in a great PR move, faxes a memo to all the factories stating that Lisa and the former St. Johns coach are not to be spoken to by the workers. If the workers speak to them, they will be severely punished. At this point, Nike is looking like the worst company in the world in the documentary. They seem to not care one bit about their employees much less care about talking about it. Nike’s response to them going to factories and corporate offices and talking about the conditions of the workers is to have them harassed and followed.
A few of the workers talk on the documentary about being afraid and dealing with consequences of working there. A woman there who has been trying to organize Reebok and Nike workers for years is filmed at a rally. She tells her story of being arrested and tortured by the Army. The main message from the Nike workers from inIndonesia is they want to work and they are proud to work but they don’t want to be exploited.
He Jim Keady goes back to America and finds the CEO of Nike at lunch and attempts to talk to him about the workers in Indonesia. The CEO doesn’t want to talk and tells him no. Once again, Nike looks really bad. You One would think they’ve never been approached by people talking about their sweatshops. Their PR needs to come up with a better strategy thaen not talking about it.
The end of the documentary shows images of the factory workers, shoes being sold in American stores, and him and Lisa going to college campuses talking about the exploitation of Nike workers with Rage Against the Machine playing in the background. He explains that the truth needs to be told and last word on the matter is the singer of Rage Against the Machine singing the words “Testify.”
Nike Sweatshops: Behind the Swoosh is an engaging documentary that doesn’t stray from the point it is trying to tell you with filler scenes and endless dialogue. The documentary is well made and tells a sad story, but worth seeing. The story of this soccer coach leaving the comforts of home to live like the Nike workers in Indonesia is one of sacrifice and hope. The message is clear in twenty minutes: the exploitation of Third World workers needs to be told and it needs to end.
Keady, Jim. "Www.educatingforjustice.org." EDUCATE. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2012.
Meyers, Chris “Wrongful Beneficence: Exploitation and Third World Sweatshops.”
Journal of Social Philosophy 35.3 (2004): 219-333. Print.