Washington state

Nike cuts contractor; critics not mollified

PORTLAND - Nike's decision to drop an overseas contractor over alleged labor violations has won little favor among labor rights groups.

Nike said it was ceasing its contract with Saga Sports, a Pakistan-based company, to produce hand-stitched soccer balls because of numerous violations, including worker harassment, safety violations and improper outsourcing - which increases the potential of children being used as labor.

Company spokesman Alan Marks said Nike made the decision after six months of trying to mediate the problems with the company, which were found by an independent monitor.

Nike says the move illustrates the company's enhanced focus on corporate responsibility and labor standards. But some critics say it's a move short of truly fixing the often-criticized practices of the world's largest maker of athletic apparel.

Saga was created in 1996 with much fanfare over its pledge to not use child labor, a common practice in Sialkot, Pakistan - one of the largest producers of soccer balls.

Nike's labor practices were under fire at the time, after an admission of using child labor in production by subcontractors.

"If it had 10 years to make it work and failed, it raises the question of why ... (Nike) cannot make soccer balls under decent conditions," said Scott Nova, executive director of Worker Rights Consortium.

Nova said if the company can secure quality control of its products, it should be able to ensure quality conditions for workers.

"I think Nike would have more power to change treatment than to move out," said Nell Greenberg, spokeswoman for Global Exchange, an international human rights organization.

But Nike says it was trying to move swiftly to remedy the problems without hurting the workers at the plant.

"Monitoring can discover problems but monitoring can't solve problems," Marks said. "The issue is with Saga management and correction."

Nike said it tried to get the company up to its standards, but the violations were too serious for the company to continue its business contract. If Saga fills its existing orders with Nike, Marks said, it will create three months of remaining work for employees.