Nike is a brand that in modern times represents both sides of globalization. While they seek to engage in positive corporate behavior, their participation in the global economy has often shown otherwise.
As Pieta Rivoli of “Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy” wrote, “problems arise not with the market but with the suppression of the market.” Similarly with the Nike brand, manufacturers and importers with tax breaks are able to do better if they avoid the risks and competition of global trade. But this means that countries are forced to reduce prices to compete.
Because of the escalating interconnectivity of the global economy Nike began outsourcing shoe production to lower-cost Japanese producers. By thrusting the burden of production onto their contractors, who find ways to make production happen as cheaply as possible, companies like Nike try to escape the blame for outsourced labor and the low wages and poor working conditions that come with it. This includes everything from the formation of unions being illegal to mandatory overtime hours to nonexistent job security — for example, as Nike’s presence in Indoneisa increased, its plants exploited the workers, not even paying minimum wage and overworking them.
Later, due to harsh criticism by NGOs, Nike formed a Code of Conduct that its suppliers were responsible for enforcing — a first step toward fair labor policies. Now, they must also have inspections with Nike staff to ensure these are being enforced. Companies like Nike raise the question of whether the symbol and brand that is created within America — of sportsmanship, for example, is the same representation we find in the countries that are actually manufacturing the products.
Nike’s global impact can be translated in two of its definitions: universalization and westernization. The question remains of whether U.S. companies are actually benefiting countries by our apparent modernization, or if our standards being placed onto other countries damages their economies.