Nike, long the subject of sweatshop allegations, yesterday produced the most comprehensive picture yet of the 700 factories that produce its footwear and clothing, detailing admissions of abuses, including forced overtime and restricted access to water.
The company has published a 108-page report, available on its website, the first since it paid $1.5m to settle allegations that it had made false claims about how well its workers were treated.
For years activists have been pressing Nike and other companies to reveal where their factories are in order to allow independent monitoring.
Nike lists 124 plants in China contracted to make its products, 73 in Thailand, 35 in South Korea, 34 in Vietnam and others in Asia.
It also produces goods in South America, Australia, Canada, Italy, Mexico, Turkey and the US. It employs 650,000 contract workers worldwide.
The report admits to widespread problems, particularly in Nike's Asian factories. The company said it audited hundreds of factories in 2003 and 2004 and found cases of "abusive treatment", physical and verbal, in more than a quarter of its south Asian plants.
Between 25% and 50% of the factories in the region restrict access to toilets and drinking water during the workday.
The same percentage deny workers at least one day off in seven.
In more than half of Nike's factories, the report said, employees worked more than 60 hours a week. In up to 25%, workers refusing to do overtime were punished.
Wages were also below the legal minimum at up to 25% of factories.
Michael Posner, the executive director of the organisation Human Rights First, described the report as "an important step forward" and praised Nike for its transparency.
But he added: "The facts on the ground suggest there are still enormous problems with these supply chains and factories - what is Nike doing to change the picture and give workers more rights?"
Nike has joined the Fair Labor Association, a group that includes other footwear and clothing makers, as well as NGOs and universities, which conducts independent audits designed to improve standards across the industry.
The company said it needed further cooperation with other members of the industry.
"We do not believe Nike has the power to single-handedly solve the issues at stake," the company said in the report.
Mr Posner said retailers such as Wal-Mart bore huge responsibility for keeping prices low and consequently compounding poor working conditions in factories overseas.
He said that the likes of Nike and Adidas needed to work together to gain some kind of counterweight.
Debora Spar, the author of a case study on Nike, said the report "shows the company has turned a corner, although I am not sure that I would describe it as a very sharp corner."
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