Nike Takes on "Doonesbury"

Sneaker company says it doesn't run sweatshops

By Marcus Errico Jun 06, 1997 11:00 PMTags
Looks like Nike can't take a joke.

The footware giant has swung into full damage-control mode, trying to stamp out allegations made in Doonesbury that its Vietnamese shoe factory is a "hell-hole."

In a letter Friday to the South China Morning Post--a Hong Kong paper that carries Garry Trudeau's irreverent strip--a Nike spokeswoman said Doonesbury distorted working conditions. A comic strip "is not meant to be an accurate depiction of life," wrote Martha Besson, but "it should not be a vehicle for spreading hearsay."

One offending Doonesbury showed a Vietnamese laborer suffering weight loss, headaches and fatigue and complaining that her $1.60-a-day salary isn't enough to put food on the table. It was part of a series running over the past two weeks, in which the Vietnamese-American wife of the strip's title character visits her Nike-slaving cousin in Nam.

Besson, director of Nike's Asia-Pacific communications, claimed meals only cost about nine cents--easily affordable by its workers who earn two to three times rural Vietnam's average per capita income of $200 a year.

She also said Nike shoe shacks weren't sweatshops. "As someone who spends a great deal of time in the factories talking to workers about issues such as wages and working conditions, I am surprised that inaccurate information is being spread in a light-hearted manner through a daily cartoon," she wrote.

While neither Trudeau nor his distributor, Universal Press Syndicate, had a comment Friday, it's only a matter of time before Doonesbury takes on the sneaker satan again. As one of the strip's characters averred, "I'm not going to let this go! I'm taking this to the top! I'm taking it to the stockholders! I'm taking it to the media!"