NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On March 23, the Rutgers United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) invited Thailand native Noi Supalai to speak on behalf of her unacceptable experience working for a Nike-owned factory.
USAS is the “Rutgers chapter of a national grassroot movement that runs campaigns to build power for the working people,” as stated on their Facebook page.
After recent Nike worker strikes in Vietnam, USAS took it upon themselves to contact Rutgers President Bob Barchi in order to request the school cease its contract with Nike within 60 days.
President Barchi responded to their request by informing the students that “it would be more economically responsible for the University to allow their contract with Nike to expire in June, rather than entering the legal process of cutting the contract now.”
In an effort to continue their demand on the revisal of Rutgers’ contract with Nike, USAS invited Supalai to describe to an audience of students and faculty her struggle while working for a factory called Eagle Speed, located in Thailand that produced clothing for brands such as Northface, Columbia, Puma and Nike.
Accompanied by a volunteer translator, Noi explained how in 2008 when the economy declined, these brands began to order less clothing from the factory which ultimately caused internal problems.
Noi states that, “it was at that point that Nike took advantage of the situation and made a deal with the factory trying to order in higher quantity and they pressured for greatest quality and we had to produce it within a shorter time frame and in lower costs.”
Following the proposal of the deal, Noi added that Nike threatened Eagle Speed, claiming that if the factory did not accept the agreement that Nike would in turn remove all orders entirely. The Thailand worker explains that Eagle Speed accepted Nike’s proposal out of fear and urgency to pay the factory’s expenses.
The 2000 Eagle Speed workers were unable to keep up with the high demand and as a result, Nike placed a fine on the factory and refused to pay for any of the clothing produced.
The workers, including Noi, went unpaid for two months due to the factory’s inability to generate revenue which tremendously and negatively affecting their home lives.
When Noi and 24 of her fellow co-workers attempted to meet with Eagle Speed management they were directed to enter a room where they were immediately locked up.
Eagle Speed’s response when questioned about the detention was, “you are extremists, you are getting people on strike, this is to set an example.”
Following these extreme measures, the Eagle Speed workers reached out to the Department of Labor Protection which is the government agency who takes care of labor in Thailand.
The department sent representatives to meet with Eagle Speed management and conclusively claimed that “they could not help with this matter because it is an internal issue with the factory. It is between the customer, or the brand, and the factory. This problem would be easily solved if workers decided to go back to work.”
Unable to receive help from the Department of Labor Protection, the workers directly contacted Nike and were able to meet with representatives who assured them that the Eagle Speed management was unethical and they would return with solutions to their problem.
This promise was quickly broken when Eagle Speed workers were informed that Nike workers did not appear for their appointment date and also withdrew every order that was with the Eagle Speed.
With little hope, Noi and her co-workers reached out to the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC).
This independent labor rights monitoring organization conducts “investigations of working conditions in factories around the globe. [Their] purpose is to combat sweatshops and protect the rights of workers who make apparel and other products” as described on their website workersrights.org.
Within one week, the WRC was able to reach an arrangement with Eagle Speed that successfully allowed former workers to go back to work under the agreement that they would not be discriminated against and workers that wished to resign were granted full compensation.
Noi concluded her talk with a heartfelt mission, saying that “I have crossed the ocean to share my story to make this campaign successful so that Nike can be monitored for whatever it does and is more responsible for its production line.”
It is her goal to emphasize to those she reaches that “ it is impossible that Nike could have it’s own organization that monitors itself because what this company only cares about is it’s own profit, not the welfare of the small people like us.”
In agreement, USAS asks Rutgers University that we do not renew our contract with Nike unless it is explicitly stated in the new contract that the presence of WRC is included, allowed and encouraged.