Nikes Exploitation of Child Laborers in Asian Countries Thesis

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Nike and Child Labor

It is no secret that American-owned countries frequently outsource their labor to people in foreign countries, because foreign labor is cheap when compared to domestic labor. One reason that foreign labor is frequently less expensive than domestic labor is that many foreign countries do not impose the same types of regulations on employers as the United States does. One of the more controversial missing regulations relates to the use of child labor. While child labor is largely outlawed in the United States, and strictly and carefully regulated in the areas where it is not outright prohibited, many countries in the world do not take such a hard-line stance on child labor. As a result, many American companies are employing children in their foreign companies, despite legal prohibitions that would prevent them from doing so in domestically-run companies. Moreover, U.S. law makes no attempt to prevent the products of child labor from entering into the domestic product stream as long as the child labor was performed outside of the U.S. One of the most infamous perpetrators of this practice is the Nike Company, which has received substantial criticism for employing underage children in its overseas factories, especially in China.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Thesis on Nikes Exploitation of Child Laborers in Asian Countries Assignment

Ethically, this issue seems very clear cut to most Americans, who live in a country where children, even impoverished children, have access to a government-sponsored standard-of-living that exceeds the standard of living for most working-class people in less-developed nations. Furthermore, the international community, specifically the United Nations, has sent a clear message that children are entitled to an education and should not be employed in oppressive environments, specifically environments that would interfere with a child's access to an education. However, the international community has also sent a clear message that children are entitled to a certain standard of living. While placing the burden of providing necessities for a child on the child's parents and then the state, the international community has failed to address the reality that in many impoverished nations, parents do not have the financial resources to adequately provide for their children's care. Moreover, these same impoverished nations are also unlikely to have sufficient state resources to provide an adequate standard of living to children whose parents are unable to provide such support. In that case, law makers and law enforcement face an untenable dilemma; make and enforce laws that prevent child labor, which may mean starvation or worse for an individual child, or permit child labor and reinforce a cycle of inescapable poverty? When viewed from that angle, the ethical problem, which seems so clear-cut in a land of plenty, becomes much more difficult to resolve.

Moreover, business people face their own ethical issues. Corporate boards have a fiduciary duty to maximize profits for their shareholders. Therefore, at least in theory, they have an obligation to seek the lowest costs and the highest profits attainable. If that means selling a pair of Nikes for $150, while only paying their child sweatshop labor workers pennies a day, what decision should a board make? After all, if a board is in compliance with local laws and is paying the going rate for labor in a specific country, are they doing a service or a disservice to employ people at that local rate? Moreover, if children are in need of jobs, is a company being exploitative to provide them with those jobs?

In theory, those questions can be thought-provoking ethical questions. However, when one looks at the reality of sweatshop labor as handled by an extremely profitable company like Nike, which fashions itself as the industry leader, it becomes clear that the employment practices are unduly exploitative. For example, most of Nike's shoes are produced in three Southeast Asian countries: Indonesia, China, and Vietnam. These countries were not selected only for their access to cheap labor, but because of cultural or legal barriers to challenging employers. For example, "in China and Vietnam, the law prohibits workers from forming independent trade unions" (Global Exchange, 2007). For many years, Nike hid behind the independent contractor excuse when called to account for its exploitative labor practices. However, it is important to realize that Nike and other large companies who similarly employ independent contractors for manufacturing and production maintain a much higher degree of control over their product than in a typical independent contractor situation. For example, "Nike dictates the terms to the contractor: the design, the materials, the price it will pay" (Global Exchange, 2007). Moreover, while Southeast Asian workers do seek out these jobs when they become available, the reality is that they also vehemently protest the working conditions in Nike plants:

In April 1997, 10,000 Indonesian workers went on strike over wage violations. In the same month, 1,300 workers in Vietnam went on strike demanding a one-cent-per-hour raise and in 1998, 3,000 workers in China went on strike to protest not only low wages, but hazardous working conditions. And remember, in these countries, workers who protest put themselves at great personal risk. They can end up fired and blacklisted from further jobs, or worse yet, be interrogated and jailed (Global Exchange, 2007).

Nike's behavior throughout Southeast Asia has been the subject of a tremendous amount of controversy. In fact, several reputable human rights organizations have called for boycotts of Nike products because of their unfair labor practices. However, a discussion of labor practices throughout Southeast Asia ignores the fact that each country has specific cultural and governmental influences that make child labor and otherwise exploitative labor practices possible within that country. This paper will focus on child labor in China because China is the wealthiest of the countries where Nike is alleged to use child sweatshop labor, and, as such, has the financial resources to target those unlawful practices, where countries like Vietnam and Indonesia lack the financial resources to thoroughly investigate and target such human rights abuses.



The United States strictly regulates child labor, by limiting the types of work a child can do, working conditions, and the number of hours a child can work each day. It also establishes age limits for certain types of labor. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides that:

(a) No producer, manufacturer, or dealer shall ship or deliver for shipment in commerce any goods produced in an establishment situated in the United States in or about which within thirty days prior to the removal of such goods there from any oppressive child labor has been employed: Provided, That any such shipment or delivery for shipment of such goods by a purchaser who acquired them in good faith in reliance on written assurance from the producer, manufacturer, or dealer that the goods were produced in compliance with the requirements of this section, and who acquired such goods for value without notice of any such violation, shall not be deemed prohibited by this subsection: And provided further, That a prosecution and conviction of a defendant for the shipment or delivery for shipment of any goods under the conditions herein prohibited shall be a bar to any further prosecution against the same defendant for shipments or deliveries for shipment of any such goods before the beginning of said prosecution.

(b) the Secretary of Labor, or any of his authorized representatives, shall make all investigations and inspections under section 11(a) with respect to the employment of minors, and, subject to the direction and control of the Attorney General, shall bring all actions under section 17 to enjoin any act or practice which is unlawful by reason of the existence of oppressive child labor, and shall administer all other provisions of this Act relating to oppressive child labor.

(c) No employer shall employ any oppressive child labor in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce or in any enterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce.

(d) in order to carry out the objectives of this section, the Secretary may by regulation require employers to obtain from any employee proof of age. (29 U.S.C.S. 201 §(12)(a-c).

Under the FLSA:

(l) "Oppressive child labor" means a condition of employment under which (1) any employee under the age of sixteen years is employed by an employer (other than a parent or a person standing in place of a parent employing his own child or a child in his custody under the age of sixteen years in an occupation other than manufacturing or mining or an occupation found by the Secretary of Labor to be particularly hazardous for the employment of children between the ages of sixteen and eighteen years or detrimental to their health or well-being) in any occupation, or (2) any employee between the ages of sixteen and eighteen years is employed by an employer in any occupation which the Secretary of Labor shall find and by order declare to be particularly hazardous for the employment of children between such ages or detrimental to their health or well-being; but oppressive child labor shall not be deemed to exist by… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Nikes Exploitation of Child Laborers in Asian Countries.  (2009, September 7).  Retrieved January 16, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Nikes Exploitation of Child Laborers in Asian Countries."  7 September 2009.  Web.  16 January 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Nikes Exploitation of Child Laborers in Asian Countries."  September 7, 2009.  Accessed January 16, 2021.