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Sporting Goods and Sweatshops

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Connor Sephton investigates how Nike faced up to its critics and tackled staff issues in its overseas operations.

Following press criticism regarding the working conditions of its labour force, Nike has become keen to show its commitment to improving the quality of life for factory workers in Eastern Asian countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam. The multibillion dollar empire has forged allegiances with the Fair Labour Association in America, while also commissioning an audit from Ernst & Young into its business practices abroad.

On 18 May 1998 a columnist from The New York Times had described Nike as setting a benchmark standard for factory working conditions. This was prompted by a speech in May of the same year, from Nike’s founder Phillip Knight, in which he spoke of 12 promises to transform the health and safety, pay, training and minimum age of employees.

They were certainly promises that needed to be made. Life magazine’s iconic image of a young Pakistani boy stitching a football damaged public perception of the company in 1996. And in 1997 it was revealed that factory workers in Vietnam were being subjected to levels of toxic fumes 177 times above the limit imposed by the Vietnam Government. Nike’s ethical reputation was tarnished.

Yet, in May 2001, three years after Knight had promised “some fairly significant announcements”, Global Exchange published a 118-page report called “Still Waiting for Nike to Do It”. The people-centred human rights organisation, which plays a key role in highlighting the plight of factory workers, wrote in detail about which promises had been met and what reforms were still needed.

One such promise was that the air quality in each workplace would conform to US standards and be inspected regularly to ensure the compliance of Nike’s contractors. However, with managers in factories receiving advance warning of inspections, and air quality reports not being released into the public domain afterwards, critics feared that there would be a lack of accountability, and that scrutiny would not be possible.

Earlier, in September 2000, a Global Alliance report focused on Indonesia and funded by Nike’s own contributions to the consortium confirmed: “We have raised disturbing issues about the workplaces in Indonesia where some of their products are made. No worker should be subject to some of the working conditions reported in this assessment.” From its survey of 4,000 workers, representing a total of 54,000 employees in nine factories, Global Alliance found that three in every ten members of staff said they had seen or endured sexual abuse – this amounts to 18,000 victims when the data is extrapolated. There were also reports of violence from supervisors towards those working slowly, and threats of cleaning toilets as punishment if targets weren’t met. Critics were discovering that, less than 18 months after Phillip Knight’s passionate speech, Nike was still battling to improve the conditions for employees in its 500,000-strong, 50-country supply chain.

The Indonesian survey feedback wasn’t all bad. The hour-long interviews with factory workers revealed that relationships between employees and supervisors were generally positive; and many workers stated they wouldn’t hesitate to ask for help and advice from their line manager if it was required. Despite these positive elements, though, in February 2001, three months before the release of “Still Waiting for Nike to Do It”, Nike produced a remediation plan in response to the damning findings relating to its Indonesian factory conditions.

So, what real influence have these significant documents had on the ethical practices of Nike as it tries to maintain growth and preserve profits without compromising workers?

One of the issues, both then and now, is overtime. While some factory workers willingly volunteer to take on more work to increase their income, others speak of pressure to work longer shifts involuntarily – with some women even sacrificing their right under Indonesian law to two days of menstrual leave a month. To combat this, Nike’s “Corporate Responsibility Report” (www.nikebiz.com/crreport), which forms the basis of Nike’s newly formed code of conduct, outlines how subcontracted factories can be penalised through a grade system if more than 10 percent of their workforce clock in excess of 60 hours a week. It also requires employees to take one day off in every seven. And where workers were once exploited over pay, all factory employees are now paid in line with the minimum wage set by local government. The report states that hourly rates should be “equitable, competitive and locally relevant”.

Nike’s “Corporate Responsibility Report” agrees, stating “Nike believes that local wage setting is best done by negotiations between workers, labor representatives, the employer and the government. […] Nike increasingly sees the need for further regional and global discussions among suppliers, governments, NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and – importantly – workers, about the degree to which wages across the industry are meeting workers’ needs.”

Yet, progress in the factories once said to represent “the hidden cost of commercialisation” is strong. While it might be a good thing that the products created by Nike promote healthy living, the ethical health of its business is equally important, if not more so. And part of that is ensuring a good quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of workers in its supply chain.

Nike has at last caught up with The New York Times statement of 12 years ago; it really is now setting “a standard other companies should match”.

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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