Behind the Swoosh: Sweatshops & Social Justice

Tri-C Diversity Series….



Educator and social activist Jim Keady visited Indonesia more than a decade ago to investigate how athletic apparel manufacturer Nike Inc. was treating its factory workers there.

He has been telling the world about the experience ever since, via his award-winning film Behind the Swoosh and hundreds of speaking engagements every year.


Social activist Jim Keady displays his special brand of Nike t-shirt to dramatize conditions of overseas manufacturing workers.

Keady spoke at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®) three times this month, including Westlake’s Westshore Campus on April 3  as part of Tri-C’s 2012-13 Celebrating Diversity Series.

Keady, director of the New Jersey-based Education for Justice Inc., talked about living with Nike’s factory workers and witnessing forced overtime, starvation wages, sexual harassment, physical violence and intimidation by supervisors and his efforts to end sweatshop abuses.

 What’s it like to live on $1.25 a day? Mostly, it will get you a little rice, sleeping quarters in an 9 by 9 cubical, and the chance to work 15 hours a day if you want a little overtime. How about the open sewer that floats just outside your front door, or the piles of burning rubber from left over shoe material? Well, those things are free.

 Think the $200 athletic shoes you are wearing were expensive? According to Keady, if you were an Indonesian worker, they would cost you the equivalent of $4000 in their world.


This slide demonstrates the differences in earning power between overseas manufacturing workers and domestic corporate icons.

“Nike is in Indonesia for one reason – cheap labor,” said Keady, who goes so far as to say Nike is un-American. “The American way is democracy – that all people are created equal. This is not the American way.”

 Living in an Indonesian worker village for a month, Keady lost 25 pounds. His life-changing moment came over a decade ago when this former St. St. Joseph’s University Div. l soccer player moved on to accept a coaching position at coach at St. John’s University (NY) – the NCAA Div. I  National Champions, while also pursuing a master’s degree.

 As part of a class assignment, Jim began to research Nike’s labor practices in light of Catholic Social Teaching, He reports finding  that Nike’s factories were de facto sweatshops with long hours, low wages, and an overall exploitation of mostly poor women in developing countries.


Jim Keady has spent 10 years promoting a global labor movement in support of overseas working conditions.

At the same time Jim was doing his research, St John’s University Athletic Department began to negotiate a $3.5 million dollar endorsement deal with Nike that would require all athletes and coaches to wear and endorse the products.  Jim questioned the endorsement deal privately at first, and then publicly.  Eventually he was given an ultimatum by his head coach – “Wear Nike and drop this issue…or resign,”  says his website,

 That spurred his  travel to Indonesia multiple times over the past 8 years. He is currently producing a feature-length film about the lives of Nike factory workers and his experiences with them – SWEAT (

 The cost to Nike to manufacture a pair of shoes, reports Keady, is $16.25 ($10.75 for materials, $2.42 for labor, $2.10 for overhead and 97 cents for factory profit). That adds up to a huge bottom line for Nike: $2.2 billion in profits based on $24 billion in revenues annually, says Keady.


Keady claims Nike factories are “de facto sweat shops.”

His goal? To start a global labor movement. “We have started with one company and one country to create the model to win and take it to other countries.”

Americans, he said, are suckered in to wear logos that support corporate images and profits at the expense of fellow human beings living at poverty level or below. “You could take 7 per cent of their ad budget and fix the problem, or add $5 to each pair of shoes,” said Keady, pointing to huge endorsement package for pro athletes. Lebron James, says Keading, earns as much in one game as an Indonesian factory worker makes in over 9.5 years.

 “You need to get out into the streets and demand change,” urges Keading. Visit his website at to learn more.

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