Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company
Just Lampoon It May 17, 1998

Nike chairman Philip Knight's announcement Tuesday that the company would stop child labor and other abuses at its footwear plants overseas is a victory not just for human rights and labor organizers but also for the power of political satire. Garry Trudeau's comic strip "Doonesbury" has been skewering Nike for labor conditions at its factories in Asia for more than a year. In one sequence, Mike Doonesbury's fiancee, Kim, returns to Vietnam and finds a long-lost cousin working for Nike. She grows incensed at the exploitative conditions there and becomes a crusading activist back home.

Similarly Michael Moore, the muckraking documentary filmmaker, spoofs Knight himself in his latest movie "The Big One," which opened last month. In the film, Knight is surprisingly candid about children in his factories, protesting that he doesn't employ anyone under 14. Of course, he protests too much.

Now comes Knight's conversion. "The Nike product has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime, and arbitrary abuse," he said in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington. He promised to raise the minimum age of his factory workers to 16 and make overseas Nike plants hew to US health and safety standards, though he made no commitment to increase wages.

Knight's troubles are not just bad public relations. Nike's own comissioned inspection report by the consulting firm Ernst & Young found serious air quality and health problems at a plant in Vietnam. But the cartoons and lampoons hold up a bright mirror that no written report can match.

Satirists Trudeau and Moore made consumers see Nike's ubiquitous swoosh logo as more of a slave driver's lash. The "Just do it" company was forced to admit: Just blew it.

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