FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Dita Sari Tells Reebok to Shove It

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

Right till the end of January, Dita Sari, an Indonesian in her late twenties, was preparing to fly from her home near Jakarta to Salt Lake City to bask February 7 in the admiration of assorted do-gooders and celebrities mustered by the public relations department of Reebok, for the thirteenth annual Human Rights Awards, overseen by a board including Jimmy Carter and Kerry Kennedy Cuomo. Reebok is a company that dukes it out each year with Adidas and New Balance for second place, far behind the Behemoth of the business, Nike, in the world of sports shoes and apparel.

Make no mistake, the folk ? usually somewhere between four and six ? getting these annual Reebok awards have all been fine organizers and activists, committed to working for minorities, the disenfranchised, the disabled, the underdogs in our wicked world.

Dita Sari’s plan was to accept the ticket from Reebok, proceed to the podium in the Capitol Theater in downtown Salt Lake where the world’s winter athletes are now assembled, and then, when offered the human rights award by either Desmond Tutu or Robert Redford, reject it.

Now, this annual Reebok ceremony isn’t up there with the Nobels, or the genius grants from McArthur. Despite Reebok’s best efforts, it’s definitely a second tier event . Nonetheless it’s paid off for Reebok. Says Jeff Ballinger, a anti-sweatshop activist who’s organized with shoe workers in Indonesia the past 13 years, “With this kind of ceremony, Reebok gets its name into respectable company. When they give a prize to someone like Julie Su, a lawyer for immigrant workers in California, people who wouldn’t be seen dead in Nikes, are impressed.”

Dita Sari got picked by Reebok’s judges because she defied her government on the issue of independent trade unions. In her own words: “In 1995, I was arrested and tortured by the police, after leading a strike of 5,000 workers of Indoshoes Inti Industry. They demanded an increase of their wages (they were paid only US$1 for working 8 hours a day), and maternity leave as well. This company operated in West Java, and produced shoes of Reebok and Adidas.”

She got out of prison in 1999. Since then she’s been building a union of workers in plants across Java. It was there that she got a good look at Reebok’s contractors, the underbosses of all the apparel, footwear, computer, and toy companies that contract out their work. These contractors run their plants in a notoriously harsh manner, whether in China, Indonesia, Guatemala or Mexico.

Reebok’s flacks can brandish armloads of studies, codes, monitoring reports, guidelines and kindred matter all attesting to the company’s dedication to the fair treatment of anyone making consumer items with the name Reebok printed on them. But nothing has really changed. “We’ve created a cottage industry of monitors and inspectors and drafters of codes,” Ballinger says, “but all these workers ever wanted was to sit down in dignity and negotiate with their bosses and this has never happened.”

Due in large part to the efforts of the workers and western allies like Ballinger’s Press for Change, the daily wage in Indonesia actually went up over 300 per cent between 1990 and 1997, at which point the Asian economic crisis struck. Inflation wiped out all these gains. Workers’ daily pay is now half what it was before the crisis hit.

These were the points Dita Sari was going to make when she got to Salt Lake City. Then she learned that Reebok intended to schedule her and other recipients for some public events before the actual award ceremony. Rather than let Reebok benefit in any way from her presence Dita Sari pulled the plug and at last word is in Jakarta trying to raise relief money for workers left destitute by the worst flooding in decades. She’s sent the speech she was planning to give at the Awards in Salt Lake City:

“I have taken this award into a very deep consideration. We finally decide not to accept this. On the one hand, this is a kind of recognition of the struggle and the hard work that we have done for years. But on the other hand, we are very conscious of the condition of the Reebok workers from the third world countries, such as in Indonesia, Mexico, China, Thailand, Brazil and Vietnam.

“In Indonesia, there are five Reebok companies. 80% of the workers are women. All companies are sub-contracted, often by the South Korean companies such as Dung Jo and Tong Yang. Since the workers can only get around $1.5 a day, they then have to live in a slum area, surrounded by poor and unhealthy conditions, especially for their children. At the same time, Reebok collected millions of dollars of profit every year, directly contributed by these workers. The low pay and exploitation of the workers of Indonesia, Mexico and Vietnam are the main reasons why we will not accept this award.”

But with its awards isn’t Reebok at least trying to do something decent? The way Dita Sari sees things, the answer is that the attempt is a phony. All the awards in the world, all the window dressing with Desmond Tutu, Carly Simon, Sting, Robert Redford, doesn’t alter the basic facts, that workers in the third world are being paid at the absolute minimum to make a very profitable product. According to Ballinger, the labor cost of a $70 pair of sneakers made in China, Vietnam or Indonesia is $1 or less.

Is there such a thing as a virtuous sneaker? Ballinger cites Bata, a Toronto-based company that runs its own factory in Jakarta. Its executives chose to sit down with the union and work out a contract with significant improvements on issues that workers care about greatly, such as seniority. Though the margin has fallen recently, the wage scales are better than minimum. Instances of bullying and intimidation of workers are far fewer. Bata’s shoes are sold only in Indonesia, for what an Indonesian can afford, which somewhere from $7 to $10.

Ten years ago another courageous Indonesian, Teten Masduki, was asked by the Levi Strauss company to broker a clinic to be built near a contractor’s factory. Teten, uncompromising labor advocate that he is, refused even though the assignment would have made him a local hero. His reason: a clinic wouldn’t give the workers what they need, a voice, the power to bargain.

Teten Masduki and Dita Sari see the world clearly, a lot more clearly than the celebrities and activists massed at such events as the one organized by Reebok in Salt Lake City, a city already awash with Olympian bunkum about human brotherhood. Dita Sari turned down $50,000 from Reebok and will go on organizing against corporate exploitation and government harassment. Teten Masduki turned down a fine position with Levi Strauss. These days he’s been responsible for chasing out a corrupt attorney general from his post as head of Indonesia’s Corruption Watch. Do-gooders should study these fine examples and stiffen their spines.

Click here to read Dita Sari’s statement on the Reebok award.

 

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

January 22, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
It’s Time to Call Economic Sanctions What They Are: War Crimes
Jim Kavanagh
Behind the Money Curtain: A Left Take on Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory
Sheldon Richman
Trump Versus the World
Mark Schuller
One Year On, Reflecting and Refining Tactics to Take Our Country Back
Winslow Wheeler
Just What Earmark “Moratorium” are They Talking About?
W. T. Whitney
José Martí, Soul of the Cuban Revolution
Uri Avnery
May Your Home Be Destroyed          
Wim Laven
Year One Report Card: Donald Trump Failing
Jill Richardson
There Are No Shithole Countries
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
Are the Supremes About to Give Trump a Second Term?
Laura Finley
After #MeToo and #TimesUp
Howard Lisnoff
Impressions From the Women’s March
Andy Thayer
HuffPost: “We Really LOVED Your Contributions, Now FUCK OFF!”
Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
Thomas S. Harrington
What Nerve! In Catalonia They are Once Again Trying to Swear in the Coalition that Won the Most Votes
Pepe Escobar
Rome: A Eulogy
Robert Hunziker
Will Aliens Save Humanity?
Jonah Raskin
“Can’t Put the Pot Genie Back in the Bottle”: An Interview with CAL NORML’s Dale Gieringer
Stepan Hobza
Beckett, Ionesco, and Trump
Joseph Natoli
The ‘Worlding’ of the Party-less
Julia Stein
The Myths of Housing Policy
George Ochenski
Zinke’s Purge at Interior
Christopher Brauchli
How Trump Killed the Asterisk
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe
Michael J. Sainato
U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books
Michael Barker
Blame Game: Carillion or Capitalism?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail