With profits plummeting and negative attention flooding in following the exposure of sweatshops in overseas factories, it became clear that Nike’s image had to change—and fast. Though not the only company caught in the cross-fire following the documentation of atrocious working conditions, Nike managed to capture the spotlight. As a member of society, I feel driven to act as a socially conscious consumer, allowing me to strongly relate to Nike’s desired audience.
Although certain tactics are more effective at reaching people, Nike uses two strategies during crisis management: a speech with the more effective emotional appeal and a logical argument through the documentation of social responsibility. Some negative impressions still linger, however, Nike’s strides toward a better future for their employees have improved public impressions greatly. The revelation of horrendous conditions in foreign countries began in 1991, starting a public relations firestorm toward companies using “cost-effective” forms of labor.
Activist Jeff Ballinger published reports exposing the unacceptable problems: extreme hours, low pay, and unsafe working environments of factories in Indonesia (Nisen, Max). From there, the allegations began to spiral; countries from all over the world started to reveal the abuses occurring in their factories. Large companies received severe backlash for cutting corners to increase profits at the expense of their workers. Following the negative publicity, Nike began making an effort by creating a department that focuses on improving conditions for their employees overseas in order to calm the undesirable opinions orming about their company.
However, real change did not begin to occur until college students took up the cause against sweatshops and began to protest Nike’s products. Since Nike’s brand targets the younger demographic, this boycotting caused a major hit to their bottom line; share prices dropped from 38 dollars down to 19 (Palmquist, Rod). With demand and public opinion at an all-time low, it became clear they needed to change their behavior.
Phil Knight, CEO of Nike, gave a speech acknowledging the problem and admitting that dramatic changes have become necessary; this speech marked a significant turning point in their campaign toward better working conditions. During his speech, he takes a strong stance against his company’s practices by stating: “The Nike product has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime and arbitrary abuse, I truly believe that the American consumer does not want to buy products made in abusive conditions” (Cushman, John H).
This appeal to emotion highlights the utterly appalling conditions of the overseas factories, then contrasts it with the strong morals and character that the American people possess. Activists and individuals troubled by the issue of sweatshops make up Nike’s primary audience; they hope to convince those passionately protesting their company to put down their pitchforks and listen to their message. Knight aims to convince the listener that Nike has taken full responsibility for their actions and they are dedicated to making a change.
By owning up to their mistakes and promising to be better in the future, Nike builds their credibility as a reputable company. The encouragement of concern and the implication that Nike will strive to become a better company —more deserving of their business—strikes a major chord with this particular audience. Even Ballinger, the reporter who had originally documented the abuses occurring in Indonesia, praised the speech as “a very significant statement… I really, really believe that they are going to get after that problem” (Cushman, John H). Sweatshops are a touchy subject ue to a connection individuals feel with other humans living in hardship.
People naturally feel passionately about this subject, making the appeal to emotions an effective strategy. Following that speech, Nike began the long process of righting their broken system, using this information to bolster their logical argument about their improvement. If their contract factories do not make progress toward sustainability and labor requirements, penalties may ensue: remediation plans, sanctions, or even termination of business with Nike (Carroll, Glenn).
At the end of 2013, the most recent data currently available, 68 percent of their factories met the 227 requirements to score bronze or higher on the Sourcing and Manufacturing Sustainability Index in fiscal year 2013—up 19 percent from just two years prior. They aim to raise this number up to 100 percent by 2020, eradicating the labor problems that still linger today (“Empower Workers”). Important facts are posted as large numbers with a bright purple theme; this is meant to draw the reader’s attention and provoke a positive emotional impression.
Nike documents these statistics on their website, nikeresponsibility. com, hoping to convince their customers of their progress. However, choosing not to display the information on their main website means some of their target audience will not encounter the data showing Nike’s improvement. Though potentially convincing, the argument that they made great strides in fixing their labor problem and evidence that supports this claim may not reach the consumer.
Also, simple facts may not have a strong impact on the individual, especially if they believe Nike’s advancements have not been as immediate as the situation requires. Even more potentially problematic, the individual may wonder, “What about the other 28 percent of factories still living in subpar conditions? ” This provokes an emotional reaction with the opposite effect of Nike’s intentions. Though they have not resolved the problem of underpaid workers in unacceptable conditions, Nike has made great strides in fixing their issues and encouraging other companies to do the same.
Nike’s timebased, specific goal setting gives concrete measurements to live up to. As a result, they can be held accountable to their promise to maintain ethical responsibility. Even more significantly, they have improved the lives of thousands of factory workers worldwide. Nike made the decision to be “driven to do not only what is required by law, but what is expected of a leader. ” (Palmquist, Rod). Through their use of rhetoric, Nike managed to turn a public relations nightmare into changes that reflect positively on their reputation as a company.