nike: a csr cinderella story.

I had originally planned on writing about the inherent unethical nature of our modern day food system.  The New York Times recently released the top 6 essays on the ethics of eating meat.  As a vegetarian and former vegan I was intrigued.  And it gave me a lot to think about.

But, then, I saw Leon Kaye from Green Go Post‘s article on Nike.  After spending some time perusing their latest update on their sustainability and corporate responsibility efforts, I knew I had to write about them.

I like to refer to Nike as a “Cinderella Story”.

From the moment I started working on Give To Get Jobs, I became very involved in the corporate social responsibility community.  I hadn’t thought about Nike in a long time and I certainly did not buy their products.  I didn’t think very highly of Nike.  

When I thought of Nike I thought of two things:

1) sweatshops and child labor; and

2) the interview the then CEO had given with Michael Moore when he used the “it’s better than nothing” argument.

I was just starting to get involved in international human rights as a middle school kid in the 90s.  I remember the sweatshop issues that were brought to light around Nike.  That really was my first learning experience about the importance of fair trade.  And fair trade was something I bought into right away.  So, this event cemented my distaste for Nike for over the next decade.  

When I started becoming involved in the corporate social responsibility community about a year and a half ago, I started hearing about Nike again.  But this time, it wasn’t about sweatshops.  It was about the sustainability work they were doing.  I heard over and over again in #CSRChats that they were a leader in CSR.  Part of me just couldn’t wrap my mind around that.  As I dug deeper and started to learn more about the work they are doing, I realized just how incredible Nike had become.  They are doing some truly amazing and innovative work in sustainability.  And suddenly I became one of Nike’s biggest fans.

There are a number of reasons why I have fallen in love with Nike.  Their latest CSR report highlights a lot of these reasons.  But here’s a few that stand out:

Labor: They acknowledge the struggles they had in the 90s and are super transparent about where they have come and how far they still have to go.  They even include an interactive chart on where their factories fall as far as ratings are concerned.

They also recognize that they have control over a lot of the deficiencies in the supply chain system.  Overtime, for example, is a direct result of their production timelines and seasonal spikes.  They are looking into decreasing excessive overtime through making changes in their forecasting and other areas of their supply chain.

Product Design & Materials:  They start off by stating:

The “age of abundance” is over. Conspicuous consumption, wanton waste of natural resources, cheap energy – those days are long gone. In this new world, resources are scarce, and sustainability is a business imperative.

Nike is a leader among MNCs when it comes to sourcing and manufacturing sustainably.  Nike uses organic cotton, recycled polyester, environmentally preferred rubber, leather that is signed off on by the Leather Working Group, and synthetic leather whenever possible.  They are continually increasing the ratio of environmentally preferred materials to non environmentally preferred materials.

And look at this:

Manufacturing: Nike released a Manufacturing Map.  Nike’s supply chain is massive.  This map provides details about every single one of their factories.  It’s impressive.  Not too many MNCs are as transparent as Nike is when it comes to their supply chain.

Waste: Nike’s ultimate goal is to have a zero waste system.  They aim to only use resources that can be fully recyclable.  Most of their waste currently comes from packaging in shipping.  A runner up is the waste generated by footwear manufacturing.  To tackle this, one of the things Nike is doing is converting to 100% recycled shoeboxes.  They are open about the fact that they have a long way to go, but they are actively working towards zero waste.

Community: Nike gives a lot.  They are particularly passionate about Sport for Development programs.  Here’s some stats on the people they impact:

Public Policy: I don’t think I agree with them on much of their public policy involvement.  But I appreciate their transparency.

So, there you have it.  These are the reasons why I went from being a Nike hater to a Nike lover.  And I bet more people would love Nike if they only knew about all of the great work they are doing.

A bad reputation can stick with a brand for a long time.  Most of the people I have talked to about Nike immediately think of sweatshops as well.  They automatically assume that Nike is as unethical as ever.  But, Nike has truly turned themselves around.  More people need to know about the corporate responsibility and sustainability work they are doing.  Because when it comes to CSR, they are truly a Cinderella story. 

I wonder if we’ll be able to say the same thing about Apple in 10 years?


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