Obama puts Nike in trade spotlight despite sweatshop stigma of past
By Roberta Rampton and Krista Hughes
WASHINGTON May 6 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will make a high-profile pitch for a Pacific trade deal he promises will protect workers on Friday at Nike Inc, a company once reviled for using Asian sweatshops to make its famous sneakers.
In choosing the company's Oregon headquarters as the backdrop for his message, Obama risks reminding people of global trade's downside just when he needs to convince nervous Democrats to back the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a key plank of the administration's strategic pivot to Asia.
But appearing at Nike also allows Obama to talk about how things have changed from previous trade deals, and to associate his TPP with a company that says it has learned from the past mistakes of globalization.
Obama calls the TPP "the most progressive trade agreement in our history," but officials declined to say why he chose Nike to showcase a deal economists say will add $77.5 billion to U.S. annual economic output.
Stories exposing low wages and abuse at Indonesian shoe factories supplying Nike surfaced in the early 1990s, eventually sparking consumer boycotts.
In 1998, then-chief executive Phil Knight acknowledged that his product "has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime and arbitrary abuse" and pledged to raise standards.
Nike required contractors to sign a code of conduct and hired auditors to monitor changes.
Although the approach had little impact initially, conditions improved significantly after Nike began training and working more closely with suppliers, said Richard Locke of Brown University, who began studying the company in 2002. Continued...