for Cultural Exchange, known for sponsoring hundreds of multicultural
performances, is renting its facilities in Portland to Nike Inc., a
footwear and apparel company known for its exploitation of workers in
sweatshops across the globe, for the corporation's annual shareholders'
meeting on Sept. 17.
The center's decision to do business
with the Oregon-based Nike has sparked threats of demonstrations from
several groups concerned about the company's record of exploiting Third-World
The center is a nonprofit organization
dedicated to promoting cultural awareness by presenting performances
of music and dance from a wide range of ethnic and refugee populations.
It also rents its facilities in Longfellow Square to outside groups
for meetings and events.
Beverly Dacey, the center's finance
director, denied the organization had made a deal with Nike, insisting
no contract had been signed. But Ken Kunin, the president of the center's
board of directors, confirmed that co-director Phyllis O'Neill had committed
the function hall for the stockholders' meeting.
"This is certainly not a [center]
sponsored event," Kunin said. "It's a private rental of a space that
the center maintains.
"Maybe after this meeting takes
place, it would make sense for the center to take a look at its policies
on private rentals," he added.
Both O'Neill and co-director Bau
Graves were unavailable for comment.
According to Nike public relations
representative Leslye Mundy, the company is holding the meeting in Maine
because of its ownership of Yarmouth-based Cole Haan shoe company.
"We're a global business with global
shareholders," Mundy said.
Local labor and human rights activists
are already planning to demonstrate outside the center during the meeting
to protest Nike's factory conditions.
"Nike is one of the biggest users
of Third-World-country sweatshops," said Jack Bussell, an activist associated
with Mainers Against Globalization. "I'm sure we'll want to protest
[the meeting]. The center should not be holding a function like this.
They should be aware of what's going on in the world."
Michael Boyson, a member of the
center's board, also holds stock in Nike, and plans to attend the shareholders'
meeting. Boyson said he was not involved in the negotiation between
the center and Nike.
"I don't have a problem with Nike
meeting at the center," he said. "I have confidence in [the center's]
staff, and I have confidence in Nike. I know a great deal about the
company, and as an individual citizen, I'm all for [the Nike meeting].
According to Nike's 2001 annual
report, virtually all of the company's footwear is produced outside
the United States, the majority in China (40 percent), with significant
amounts in Indonesia (31 percent), Vietnam (13 percent) and Thailand
(13 percent). In fiscal year 2001, about 5 percent of Nike apparel was
manufactured in the U.S. and the remainder in 28 other countries, including
Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.
"We believe that Nike would do
well to operate in accordance with Maine values of common decency and
basic fairness," said Bjorn Claesson, an organizer of the anti-sweatshop
organization called the Maine Clean Clothes Campaign, "and hope that
Nike's coming to Maine is a sign that Nike will indeed live up to its
commitments to improve conditions for workers that make Nike products,"
Mundy said the company had "made
a lot of progress over the past three years with improving working conditions
internationally." In 1998, Nike CEO Philip Knight promised to bring
"a sea of change" to the company culture.
"We were heartened by his statements,"
Claesson said in written remarks. "Unfortunately, a recent comprehensive
examination of Nike labor practices by the human rights organization
Global Exchange during the three years since Mr. Knight made his promises,
reveals that Nike still has far to go."
According to a May 2001 report
from Global Exchange, "The projects Knight announced have been of little
benefit to Nike workers. Nike workers are still forced to work excessive
hours in high pressure work environments, are not paid enough to meet
the most basic needs of their children, and are subject to harassment,
dismissal, and violent intimidation if they try to form unions or tell
journalists about labor abuses in their factories."
That record has inflamed activists'
passions about the Nike meeting and the center's decision to rent to
"It seems to be kind of insensitive
of [the center]," said Scott Miller, director of Peace Action Maine.
"[Nike] creates misery for all the people they employ with abject wages
and health hazards. The center is there to bring information from different
cultures to broaden people's minds, where Nike [creates] very low standards
of living across the world. They fracture cultures, and they have no
place in the center."
Ned McCann, treasurer of Maine
AFL-CIO, is "offended that Nike will be in Maine," and he promised the
labor organization's members would turn up for the protest outside the
meeting. "Some of us will be there," he said, "and we'll be making some
David Ray, a former member of the
center's board and the organization's current lawyer, defended the rental
agreement, saying it was a simple business decision. "Some of the things
the center does aren't intended to follow its mission," Ray said. "One
part of the center is maintaining the rental facility, and the other
is to promote our mission."