Nike on the run after Coke's cave-in

The Times

By Burhan Wazir

THE anti-globalisation movement that brought violent protests to the streets of Seattle and Genoa is claiming victory in its battle against Nike sportswear after switching to more peaceful tactics.

The campaigners -a motley coalition of students, young "professionals of conscience" and seasoned anti-capitalists -whipped up worldwide protest on the internet over Nike's use of Third-World sweatshops. Now the company has bowed to the pressure and agreed to publish details of the 700 contracted factories it uses.

The victory follows a "Boycott Coca-Cola" campaign which forced the soft drinks giant to establish a foundation for victims of the Colombian civil war.

Coca-Cola had been fighting a losing public relations war since 2003, when it was accused of ignoring the murders of eight trade union workers by paramilitary forces at its factories in Central America.

Janet Thomas, author of The Battle in Seattle: The Story Behind and Beyond the World Trade Organisation Demonstrations, hailed the new era of internet protest as "an extremely effective way of campaigning".

She said yesterday: "Both initiatives by Coca-Cola and Nike represent a substantial climb-down by two of the world's largest brands. They show that with a sustained campaign that targets not just sales but the way these companies are perceived -in this case, as bullies -critics can eventually wear them down."

Debora Spar, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, said: "In the Nineties there was a lot of targeting of general capitalism. That seems to have been replaced. Veterans of public protests at venues like Seattle and Genoa have realised that it is much more effective to target, one by one, individual brands."

Nike has been fighting a boycott of its products since 1996 when an American magazine showed a photograph of a young Pakistani boy sewing together a Nike football.

A year later, the company's image suffered a further blow when a report revealed that workers in contracted factories in Vietnam were exposed to toxic fumes at up to 177 times the country's legal limit.

By the end of the decade, as the anti-globalisation movement began to make headlines for its protests at World Trade Organisation meetings worldwide, the boycott of Nike stores was causing serious damage. In 2000, sales fell by almost 8 per cent and the company recovered only after Phil Knight, its chairman, promised to overhaul working conditions. Since then its share price has increased by almost 125 per cent.

This week Nike -named after the goddess of victory -became the first global sportswear firm to publish details of its contracted factories and of measures to ensure more stringent monitoring of factories.

The "Boycott Coca-Cola" movement started when members of Sinaltrainal, a Colombian workers' union, contacted United Students Against Sweatshops

(USAS) in the mid-Nineties over the murders of union representatives.

USAS, which had previously campaigned against Gap, Nestle and Nike, e-mailed individuals and students' unions across the US asking them to forward anti-Coca-Cola newsletters to other student groups.

Coca-Cola has always denied any involvement in the deaths but finally agreed to give $10 million (Pounds 5.25million) to the Colombian Foundation for Education and Opportunity.