Sportswear giants Nike Inc and Adidas-Salomon have taken steps to shed their sweatshop image in Indonesia but employees are still overworked and underpaid, a leading aid agency said.
Australia-based Oxfam Community Aid Abroad released a report yesterday saying the rival companies had responded to international pressure from rights groups and aid agencies to improve working conditions, but had not done enough.
"Our feeling is that changes have occured, but they still fall well short of pulling workers out of poverty or providing them with safe conditions or protecting their rights to have unions which we see as the key issues," Timothy Connor, author of the report, "We Are Not Machines," said by telephone from Sydney.
"There have been improvements in terms of a reduction in sexual harassment, the availability of sick leave and a reduction in the level of humiliation against workers, but they are still shouted at when they work too slowly," Connor said.
The report, conducted between July last year and January 2002, is based on the accounts of 35 workers from four factories producing for both companies in West Java.
The report said full time wages as low as US$2 a day meant workers with children had to send them to distant villages to be cared for by relatives or had to go into debt to meet basic needs.
The average minimum wage in Jakarta is around US$50 per month.
The report said workers feared active union involvement could lead to dismissal, being jailed or physically assaulted.
Nike executive Chris Helzer said the report was not an accurate reflection of work conditions in Indonesia because of the small sample size.
"Interviewing 35 workers out of 110,000 workers in a country is not at all statistically significant or representative," Helzer, Nike director for external affairs Southeast Asia, said.
"On wages, entry level workers are probably paid five to 10 percent more than the [average minimum wage] amount mandated by the government," he added.
Nike, the world's number one athletic shoe company, has 11 factories in Indonesia which produce between 45 million to 55 million pairs of shoes a year. Only 2 percent go to the local market, while most end up in the US.
While Helzer declined to comment on specific cases of verbal or physical abuse cited in the report, he said one of Nike's main problems at its factories in developing countries was the lack of qualified local managers.
Adidas worker Ngadinah, 30, said conditions at her factory were hot and crowded but felt the negotiating power of her union, the Footwear Workers' Association (PERBUPAS), was slowly growing.
"The bathroom is very smelly and workers are forced to work late into the night when the company needs to meet deadlines," Ngadinah said.
Ngadinah, secretary of the union and who was featured in the report, is paid a base monthly salary of 590,000 rupiah (US$59.38).
"Just recently the company has given us the chance to have training for members, before, this was not possible," she said.
Ngadinah was jailed for a month last year for organising a strike that was joined by most of her 8,000 factory colleagues whose demands included being paid overtime at the legal rate.
The report said Nike had also made improvements on union matters.