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Est. April 5, 2002
July 28, 2016 - Issue 664

Michael Jordan
Leaves His Comfort Zone
To Take Action On
Violence In America


"There is another injustice that Jordan
could go a long way to making right and
it has to do with the very thing that has
made him as rich as he is: Air Jordan Nikes
and all of the other shoes that he allowed
the company to label with his name."

Michael Jordan, the great NBA star and super-wealthy entrepreneur, stepped up to the podium this week and declared that he could no longer “stay silent” about the violence that is plaguing the country, between black and white and, especially, between black and the police.

It is always a positive thing when a public figure, one who is known around the world, takes a position in favor or opposition to something. It’s good, depending on your own views and position on any particular issue, that someone with great wealth and power in the business world takes a stand on anything.

Jordan said this week that he could “no longer stay silent” about the violence that is sweeping the nation, especially in a time of Black Lives Matter and the killing of police officers. The violence seems to escalate and no great leader has emerged to start the process of the healing of a national festering sore that has been present virtually throughout the nation’s history.

Generally, Jordan has remained in the background on such social issues and law enforcement issues as unarmed black men have been killed by police, especially in recent years. But, he took a very evenhanded approach to the issue, pledging $1 million to the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP and $1 million to the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s new Institute for Community-Police Relations, apparently formed as an attempt to find a solution to the very volatile relations between police and black communities across the country.

“Deeply troubled” by the deaths of both black citizens and police, Jordan said on Monday that he hoped that his contributions would make a positive difference. He also declared his respect for law enforcement personnel and said he was speaking as a father and as a son who lost his own father to a “senseless act of violence.”

Spokespersons for his own business enterprises and for the Jordan brand within the Nike company said that he has been adamant that there be diversity in those businesses and that minority managers have been employed at the top level of the companies with which he has been involved.

So, it’s good that Jordan has stepped up to fight injustice and to use his fame to make a difference in the lives of people who have said that they feel the society has left them behind, and that goes for education and jobs. The majority of kids who live in the poorest parts of the nation’s cities know that they will not become sports or entertainment celebrities. It could be why there seems to be so much despair among them, even though there are groups and individuals who dedicate their lives to improving theirs.

There is another injustice that Jordan could go a long way to making right and it has to do with the very thing that has made him as rich as he is: Air Jordan Nikes and all of the other shoes that he allowed the company to label with his name.

About two decades ago, groups that were keeping track of how American corporations treat workers in other countries put the lens on Nike in Indonesia. What they found was that Michael Jordan’s stipend of $20 million for his endorsement was more than all of the Indonesian workers made in a year. There was quite a stir about it at the time and, when he was asked if the (less than) starvation wages the Nike workers were being paid were just wages, he simply said that he hoped that Nike CEO and founder Phil Knight would “do the right thing.” Knight didn’t “do the right thing” and after a short time, the issue slipped from the news and Nike carried on as usual.

The Philippine Star newspaper, in 2013, ran a story that pegged Nike’s wage at about $3.50 per day or about $21 for a six-day workweek. Nike shoemaking is highly labor intensive, the Star reported, adding that, initially, the company produced its shoes elsewhere in East Asia, in places like Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. When the cost of labor in those countries became too high for maximum profits, Nike moved to the lower wage countries: Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Indonesia. If that sounds familiar, it should, because that’s what companies in the U.S. did in the 20th Century. When unions pushed wages too high in the North, companies just moved to the non-union South. And, when those wages were not low enough, they found other countries, first in this hemisphere, and then to Asia. So far, that’s where they remain.

That’s where Nike makes its shoes now and likely will far into the future, following the lead of hundreds of other corporations that have found labor laws and regulations too onerous. Try living on the equivalent of $3.50 a day, as they do in Indonesia in the U.S. or another rich country. Injustice toward workers in the exploited countries continues today and there is no end in sight.

No end, that is, unless people like Michael Jordan speak up about those injustices, and convince corporations like Nike to treat workers like human beings who are deserving of a living wage. Nike has been very generous to him and he needs to convince Phil Knight to spread that generosity a little further, to bring a little justice into the lives of 100,000-150,000 workers in Indonesia who make the sneakers that, not so many years ago, were so expensive that some kids were willing to kill each other to take them.

Nike is not the only company that acts that way, by any means, but, now that Jordan has found his voice in defending black lives and the lives of police officers, perhaps he can do more good by encouraging other celebrities and the rich to get their generous companies to treat their starvation-wage workers in other countries with dignity and justice. It’s 2016, but it’s not too late for Jordan and others to “do the right thing.” Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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