Nike has introduced what it is calling the “Air Native N7”, a shoe designed especially for us Natives. Not only is Nike proud in producing its first shoe for a “specific” ethnic group, the company is also touting this product as a contribution to the fight against diabetes!
Before we start praising this billion-dollar multinational corporation for its recognition and attempt to promote wellness in our Indigenous communities, we should critically question the true intentions behind this gesture, their slick marketing scheme, and especially their business practices.
A recent AP article states that the shoe “will be distributed solely to American Indians; tribal wellness programs and tribal schools nationwide will be able to purchase the shoe at wholesale price and then pass it along to individuals, often at no cost.”
At no cost? Sounds like a deal too good to be true. What about the cost to tribal schools and wellness programs already strapped for funding?
The AP article further states that “[Nike] anticipates selling at least 10,000 pairs and raising $200,000 for tribal programs.” The article acknowledges that “At $42.80 wholesale, it represents less of a financial opportunity than a good will and branding effort.”
Aside from burnishing Nike’s corporate image, what direct and meaningful benefits will this gesture bring to our communities? I know that $200,000 can go a long way on any Rez, but when a corporation reports $15 Billion dollars in total revenue and $1.392 Billion in net income in 2006,I would think that they could do better. The founder of Nike, Philip Knight is reportedly worth more than 5 Billion dollars. Nike and Philip Knight would do better to donate directly to health services on our 560+ Nations. Then I could believe in their professed concern for the health of our people.
In a recent news release Nike stated that the shoe “honors the traditional Native American Seventh Generation philosophy, an approach that respects the impact of decisions made today on seven generations. The shoe’s design draws inspiration directly from Native American culture.” As Indigenous Peoples we have to ask ourselves if Nike is sincerely recognizing and honoring our traditional cultural beliefs or if this is just a marketing opportunity used to mask Nike’s unethical and frequently illegal labor practices. We follow the Seventh Generation philosophy because we know that our actions impact future generations. Can we really trust that respect, understanding, and altruism underlie this effort?
A 2000 Corpwatch press release, which was signed by numerous Human Rights advocates and submitted to the United Nations, stated “Nike, one of the Global Compact partners and an international symbol of sweatshops and corporate greed, is the target of one of the most active global campaigns for corporate accountability. The company has made announcements of changes to its behavior only after enormous public pressure. It has also aggressively opposed the only union and human rights-group supported independent monitoring program–the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC).”
Nonetheless Nike also aims to “…elevate the issue of Native American health and wellness.” Does Nike think that they’ll help bring meaningful and active awareness to our social/cultural issues or will their actions just pave the way for other corporations to profit off spiritual appropriation masked as cultural recognition and community service? This message concerns me deeply and should inform the community’s public reaction to this effort by Nike.
Dr. Rodney Stapp, Chief Executive Officer for the Urban Inter-Tribal Center of Texas and consultant for Nike says that the shoe “comes at a critical time for the health and well-being of the Native American population.” He further states “Today, more than ever, we are faced with rising rates of chronic diseases brought on in large part by overweight and inactivity and for which physical activity is a noted step in the prevention of such diseases.”
“Nike is aware of the growing health issues facing Native Americans,” explained Sam McCracken, Manager of Nike’s Native American Business program in the same release.
Mark Parker, the President and CEO of Nike, says that his corporation wants to “…improve Native American communities…” and that “The Nike Air Native N7 marks an important moment for us and is a great example of what can be achieved when we challenge ourselves to innovate for a better world”.
I’m sure they don’t really think that these shoes are going to save us, but if they are taking such a conscious stance then why aren’t they promoting and supporting other Tribal programs, organizations or services? It further amazes me (but doesn’t surprise me) that Nike can make these statements but continue to ignore the ongoing and dire issues facing the workers in their sweatshops.
Although Nike has made moves to improve its corporate image and distance itself from the sweatshop reputation, to this day they still refuse to pay a living wage, allow independent monitoring in its factories, and secure worker’s rights to organize unions in their factories. Our communities should not partner with and support a corporation involved in denying people across the world rights and benefits in the name of profit.
Furthermore, in the context of sports teams perpetuating and profiting off of racist depictions of our peoples, could any kind of appropriation add insult to injury more than this? If Nike really wanted to honor Indigenous peoples and the Seven Generations then they would stand with us and work to ban racist mascots in the industry that they definitely have the most impact on and they would immediately end their deplorable labor practices.
Mark Parker says that his corporation wants to “…improve Native American communities.” Parker later states, “The Nike Air Native N7 marks an important moment for us and is a great example of what can be achieved when we challenge ourselves to innovate for a better world”.
Our Indigenous communities should challenge Nike to have fair & just labor practices if they truly desire “a better world”. At least that would be a step in the right direction for the Seven Generations.
Indigenous Action Media
Before you trade your moccasins in for these corporate shoes, you should check these links (also sources for info in this article):
From Corpwatch (www.corpwatch.org):
“Nike, one of the Global Compact partners and an international symbol of sweatshops and corporate greed, is the target of one of the most active global campaigns for corporate accountability. The company has made announcements of changes to its behavior only after enormous public pressure. It has also aggressively opposed the only union and human rights-group supported independent monitoring program–the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC). CEO Phil Knight withdrew a $30 million donation to the University of Oregon after the University joined the WRC. Nike also cut its multimillion dollar contracts with the University of Michigan and Brown University after they joined the WRC. Nike became a sweatshop poster child not just through complicity in labor abuses but through active searching for countries with non-union labor, low wages, and low environmental standards for its manufacturing operations. This has made Nike a leader in the ‘race to the bottom’ -a trend that epitomizes the negative tendencies of corporate-led globalization.”
Check these links (some are a little old but they have relevant info and give context):
Maybe check these shoes out instead:
Read the AP press release here: http://www.comcast.net/news/national/index.jsp?cat=DOMESTIC&fn=/2007/09/26/772757.html
Read Nike’s press release here: http://www.nike.com/nikebiz/news/pressrelease.jhtml;bsessi..V3M2P0IMKXD5ACQFTBECF4YKAWMEUIZB?year=2007&m..09&letter=d
See the shoes here: http://www.nike.com/nikebiz/nikebiz.jhtml?page=2&item=airnative