In April 2010, thousands of Vietnamese Nike factory workers went on strike due to poor working conditions and low wages. A few workers stated that the 4000 Dong ($.21) meals were not sufficient or healthy enough to sustain productive work. Even after a 5% increase in wages, workers were still unhappy. During these tough economic conditions, strikes like these seem to be a common affair at Vietnamese factories. 1
Stories of poor standards of work life have plagued the Nike factory in Vietnam since its start. The mid-90s reported allegations of physical and sexual abuse, forced overtime, minimum wage violations, and poor working conditions leading to health issues. Thuyen Nguyen part of the Vietnam Labor Watch wrote about the many wretched situations Vietnamese factory workers faced.
One extreme situation documented in Nguyen’s writing occurred in 1996, when 100 workers were forced to “qu?” or kneel in the sun for an hour because one of the workers had spilled fruit on the alter. 2
On International Women’s Day of 1997, 56 women failed to wear the proper shoes into the factory. As a result of their mistake, they were forced outside in the heat to run around the building so that they could be punished and learn from their mistake. Many women fainted due to dehydration and spent the day in the hospital while other women were receiving flowers and gifts. More reports of low pay, forced overtime, and abuse were published throughout the year. 3
But that isn’t to say that the Nike factory has not improved since it started in 1993. One thing you should know is that Nike abroad is usually contracted to a foreign company, so it is not directly under Nike’s supervision. Once news about the harsh conditions was more than hush-hush, Nike took more action.
As of 2003, The Spectator reported that the Nike factory had an average pay of $54 a month, three times the minimum for a state-owned enterprise. In addition, the Nike job comes with “a regular wage, with free or subsidized meals, free medical services and training and education.”4
That’s not to say Nike is Santa Claus. Nike has been introducing corporation social responsibility to increase productivity and thus output. Economic productivity is improved with better working conditions and higher pay, simple math. By also working with cultural norms and creating solutions to root problems, Nike factory working conditions have been improving. 5
Ultimately, the Vietnamese Nike factory is continually improving, even if it may not be enough for some. The factory is providing jobs and contributing to Vietnam’s GDP in exports and expenditures (if we’re speaking in an ideal economic sense.) Despite the rough beginnings of the company and the strikes that have occurred this year, Nike is doing its best to create ideal working situations for its employees (and for its pocketbook).