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Recently I had an extended conversation with some friends about Nike’s continuing problems. We have been reading Joshua Hunt’s University of NIKE so our conversations are based on more than our passing opinions. A book discussion group is so much more interesting when the participants have read the book and are focusing on particular chapters for a given afternoon’s discussion.

I have struggled for years in various ways to help give opportunities to all people and even to save the human race from extinction. So far I’ve been successful. We’ve all been successful with that one, and lucky, too. But the playing field in hourly income for all people is horribly out of sync with fair play. On page 71 CBS reported that Indonesian factory workers were being paid $0.19 per hour to hand assemble shoe parts, like soles to uppers, that were previously made by automatic machines.

My problem with my friends and with myself was when I found myself quoting page 74 where the accounting firm Ernst & Young report that a North Vietnam factory had workers who were forced to work more hours than allowed by law, making them more likely to become injured or killed on the job.

My challenge to my friends was that Nike was in close competition with many other shoe companies and were falling behind Adidas. They were both having their shoes manufactured by foreign companies that would deliver them the quality they demanded at the lowest possible price. I said that if they were dealing with the top management of a company to deliver the product then they had very little responsibility for how the product was created.

Those business purchasers were like you and I when we each go into a shoe store and consider the qualities of the shoes and then buy the lowest price item that satisfies our desires. We don’t consider all the thousands of people involved in getting those shoes to our local shoe store, at least we didn’t think about that back in 1990, when Nike was getting started. It wasn’t up to us as individuals to make these decisions, because there was no way for us to know the conditions of all of those people.

Because of the storm that arose over those issues there was an evolution of fair trade practice and we now have fair trade agreements. There are markers on many products we buy today and those little symbols do try to give us a general look at the integrity and fairness of the providers of the products we are buying. It isn’t enough, but it’s something.

Our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is a road filled with many crooks.