February 28, 2001,
Wednesday - NBC News Transcripts
MIT GRADUATE STUDENT JONAH PERETTI AND VADA MANAGER, DIRECTOR OF
GLOBAL ISSUES MANAGEMENT AT NIKE, DISCUSS SWEATSHOP CONTROVERSY AND
PERSONALIZATION OF NIKE SHOES
KATIE COURIC, co-host:
Well, recently, an MIT
graduate student ordered shoes, but the company refused to fill the
order. The reason? He asked for the word 'sweatshop' to be stitched on
the side. Jonah Peretti ordered the shoes. And Vada Manager is
director of Global Issues Management at Nike.
Mr. VADA MANAGER (Nike
Global Issues Management): Good morning.
COURIC: Let me start with
you, Jonah. You ordered Nike shoes with the word 'sweatshop' on the
side. What made you do that?
Mr. JONAH PERETTI (MIT
Graduate Student): Well, I visited Nike's Web site, and the whole
thrust of the Web site was that Nike is about personal freedom and
freedom to choose. And to me, it seemed like a contradiction with
Nike's labor policies, which are legendary for having abuses.
COURIC: So that--you were
making a political statement, if you will?
Mr. PERETTI: So I was
making a statement, a humorous statement by selecting the word
COURIC: All right. So you
made the order, but Nike sent you an e-mail saying that your order had
been canceled for one of the more following reasons. Your personal ID
contains another party's trademark or other intellectual property.
Your personal ID contains the name of an athlete or team we do not
have the legal right to use. Never heard of the sweatshops, have you?
Your personal ID was left blank. Did you not want any personalization?
Or, your personal ID contains profanity or inappropriate slang, and
besides, your mother would slap us. All right. Well, what was your
reaction when you got that e-mail?
Mr. PERETTI: Well, it--the
four reasons they gave didn't apply to the word 'sweatshop.' Sweatshop
isn't a tea--sports name or a registered trademark. So, I decided that
I would write them back and tell them that, that it didn't apply and
could they please send me the shoes.
COURIC: And then you
received this e-mail back from Nike customer service after doing that.
(Reading) "Your Nike ID order was cancelled because your--the ID
you have chosen contains, as stated in the previous e-mail
correspondence, "inappropriate slang." So, let me bring in
How is the word,
"sweatshop" inappropriate slang?
Mr. MANAGER: Well, first
let me explain that the filter on Nike ID was originally designed to
screen out things such as racial epithets, sexual orientation
epithets, gang symbolism and other inappropriate language. It does say
on the Web site, the--the language has always been contained there,
that we have the right to refuse derogatory language or words and
cancel an order within 24 hours of it being made.
Perhaps--in--in--in retrospect, perhaps the first e-mail that Mr.
Peretti received should have included that particular language in the
e-mail. And Mr. Peretti has already done a service for his fellow
consumers. We have corrected that e-mail so that future consumers will
receive an e-mail that indicates that they have inappropriate language
that we would decline to put on the shoe. And, in addition to
curtailing e-mail traffic back and forth between consumers, consumers
will get a phone call follow-up allowing them to choose another ID if
they chose--choose to want to do that.
COURIC: Right. Well, Mr.
Manager, I guess it's still--the question remains unanswered, why is
this inappropriate slang? I mean, I can understand not wanting to put
racial slurs or--or gang messages on Nike shoes, but what is so
inappropriate about "sweatshop..."
Mr. MANAGER: Well...
COURIC: ...except from a
Nike PR perspective?
Mr. MANAGER: Well, Katie,
the word "sweatshop" doesn't apply to our factories. We
would not put anything that's derogatory or offensive on our turf.
That would be almost like asking, for example, "Good Morning
America," if they were to take out an ad during the
"TODAY" show hour, saying that all of your stories were
false, and--and your guests didn't know what they were talking about
and you running that ad. Or The New York Times, for example, buying an
ad in The Washington Post saying all their sources were false. We have
the right, and we have no obligation to put on a--on a shoe
information that we consider to be derogatory to the product. No
company in the world would do anything like that.
COURIC: All right, Jonah,
what's your reaction to that explanation?
Mr. PERETTI: Well, I'm not
another shoe company trying to compete with Nike. I'm just--I--I've
read in the papers for years about labor abuses at Nike. So, I feel
like the--the word is inappropriate slang in Nike town, but maybe not
COURIC: And, Mr. Manager,
you know, these--these ID shoes are advertised as being about quote,
"Freedom to choose and freedom to express who you are."
By censoring what can be
written on the shoes, aren't you res—restricting someone's
Mr. MANAGER: Well, not at
all. Again, I think that there are always limitations, to certain
degree, of speech. Obviously, again, here's a copy of the shoe itself,
and this is where the ID would go. We have no obligation to put on a
shoe information that we would consider to be derogatory or defamatory
to our company and our product.
Mr. MANAGER: There are
other things that we refused to put on a shoe. This is the first time
that we have refused to put an ID on that has caused this kind of
There have been other
things that people have attempted to slip through the filter. And
again, it was originally designed to protect things against gang
And I'm sure there's a lot
of happy principals and parents who think that they--we certainly
don't want shoes out there with drug references or any—any
inappropriate gang symbolism in their schools or in their homes.
COURIC: And you understand
that, Jonah? Are you cool with that...
Mr. PERETTI: Oh, yes.
COURIC: ...restricting some
of the things being stitched on the shoes?
Mr. PERETTI: Yes, I didn't
expect to get my shoes anyway. I--I use—chose the word
"sweatshop" as a challenge to Nike.
COURIC: In fact, for years,
Mr. Betta--I me--Mr. Manager, rather, Nike has been accused of--I know
you have a problem with the sweatshop moniker, but it's been accused
of mistreating workers in places like Vietnam, Thailand,
Mexico and just last week
an organization called The Global Alliance, and I want to also add
that Nike helped finance this report, but, came out with a report
about your Indonesian factories. And--and the report claimed workers
are verbally and physically abused, sexually harassed, there are
health and safety concerns. So, obviously, you've got some problems.
Mr. MANAGER: Well,
certainly, no one condones sweatshops, Katie. And, in fact, Nike has
always committed to doing what's right, whether it's controversial or
even painful to us. As you correctly pointed out, we are the ones that
helped fund that report. We are interested to know and wanted to be
committed to find out what was going on in those factories. And we put
together a pretty good remediation plan of independent monitoring and
a grievance process and other training programs to try to address the
root of those problems and get those issues corrected. And we
shouldn't be penalized for being courageous enough to lay ourselves
bare in that regard by putting information that's adverse to the
company out there. But at the same time, we certainly believe that we
want to 'just do the right thing,' get this issue corrected, and we
certainly acknowledge that there—not everything in the Nike
manufacturing world has been as perfect as we would like it to be.
COURIC: And--and your final
e-mail was: (Reading) "Thank you for the time and energy,"
Jonah, that you wrote to Nike, "You have spent on my request.
I have decided to order the
shoes with a different ID, but I would like to make one small request.
Could you please send me a color snapshot of the
10-year-old Vietnamese girl
who makes my shoes?" Did Nike accommodate that request?
Mr. PERETTI: No, I didn't
hear from Nike until--th--this is the first time
I've talked to Nike since
that last e-mail.
COURIC: Having said all
that, you e-mailed all these--this e-mail conversation with Nike to
many friends. You've gotten a huge response. Are most people
supportive of what you did? Or di--and--some are supporting Nike
in—in what it did, correct?
Mr. PERETTI: Well, the vast
majority of people are sending me letters of support. And I think a
lot of people are--are sick of--of companies like
Nike that spend so much
time promoting their brand, but then don't really care that much about
their workers and the way their products are produced.
COURIC: And, Vada Manager,
I understand this has actually helped business on this particular Web
site, is that right?
Mr. MANAGER: Well, I
wouldn't necessarily put it in the category, for example, the virile
e-mail marketing that the "Blair Witch Project" used to
promote its movie, but I think one of the unintended, or in the
category of every cloud has a silver lining, this certainly has had an
interesting impact upon the business. I looked at some of the consumer
numbers, prior to coming on the show, yesterday, and in some
categories of consumer e-mail traffic and contact between Nike and
consumers, is up 75 percent in some categories and 100 percent in
others. So, I--I think in one instance, there's certainly more
awareness of the fact that we personalize shoes...
Mr. MANAGER: ...and we're
the only company in the industry right now that's doing athletic shoes
on a personalized and customized basis. So...
COURIC: And are you feeling
more pressure to improve working conditions overseas?
Mr. MANAGER: Oh--oh,
certainly. I think we've said that ourselves, that--that con--we find
ourselves in a the continuous improvement mode with regard to doing
that. So, with any shoes or clothing that you buy, I think you ought
to ask that question of any company where you produce products or
where you buy products as to whether or not they're living up to their
obligations. And I think that's a fair question. We certainly have
made that question and--and made that answer...
Mr. MANAGER: ...available
to an--people ourselves.
COURIC: Interesting story.
Raises a lot of interesting and important issues. Vada Manager from
Nike and Jonah Pretti, an MIT graduate student, that's your title.
Thanks very much for joining us. Appreciate it.
Mr. MANAGER: Thank you.
Mr. PERETTI: Thank you.
COURIC: And coming up next,
TV star Heather Locklear.
Ms. HEATHER LOCKLEAR
("Spin City"): Hello.
COURIC: But first, these