-- Workers at nine of Nike Inc.'s contract factories in Indonesia said that they have been subjected to verbal and physical abuse and that female employees at two of the factories were coerced into having sex with managers to get hired and promoted, according to a report released today by a group funded in part by the giant athletic products manufacturer.
Workers also complained about being forced to work overtime, restricted from obtaining medical care in factory health clinics, and required to clean toilets and run laps if they arrived late, the report said.
The report, based on interviews conducted by university researchers in Indonesia for the Baltimore-based Global Alliance for Workers and Communities, is based on a survey of the working environment at Nike's contract factories, which have long been criticized by labor rights groups in the United States.
Nike called the findings "disturbing" and said it would improve conditions in its 35 Indonesian factories, which employ 115,000 people and produce $1 billion worth of products each year. Most of the workers are women whose average age is 23, according to Global Alliance.
"It's unacceptable to us," said Dusty Kidd, Nike's vice president for corporate responsibility. He said the company would take "severe measures against managers that engage in these practices."
Kidd said Nike would provide more training for its factory managers, almost all of whom are from other Asian nations, about acceptable workplace behavior. He also said the company would establish a new system that would allow workers to file grievances.
"We plan to take this very seriously," he said. "Now we have a sense of the scale of what's going on. We know factory by factory where we have the biggest problems."
The nine factories studied were selected because their mangers and owners agreed to participate in the survey. Kidd called them "some of the better factories" in Indonesia, but he said he believes that workplace conditions are not significantly worse at the other 26 Nike factories.
Global Alliance is a group formed to improve the working and personal lives of factory employees, funded by Nike, Mattel Inc., Gap Inc. and other companies that have large manufacturing operations in developing countries. Its members also include universities and the World Bank.
Many of the companies decided to support the alliance in response to criticism of their labor practices by labor activists, human rights workers and college students.
Nike said it gave $7.8 million to the alliance.
"We have decided to be transparent," Kidd said. "We think the best policy is to let people see what we have, what we are doing about it and to learn from that process."
Labor and human rights groups welcomed the findings and Nike's decision to address the problem publicly. But some human rights organizations and unions said the company has promised reform for years but has not made substantial changes.
"What surprises me is that these problems still exist five years after Nike has been under an intense global spotlight," said Medea Benjamin, founding director of Global Exchange, a nonprofit human rights advocacy group based in San Francisco.
Because Nike doesn't own the factories, it has been difficult for the company to control the work environment, Benjamin said. "Also, they have chosen to work in places where it is hard for workers to organize."
Unless workers win more legal protection, "the public should have no illusions about these systemic problems being solved," said Alan Howard, assistant to the president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.
Of the more than 4,000 Nike workers surveyed by the alliance, 30 percent said they had been subjected to verbal abuse. Almost 8 percent of employees said they received unwelcome sexual comments and 3.3 percent reported being physically abused.
Two workers in each of two different factories reported that female employees were coerced into having sex with managers to obtain jobs and promotions -- allegations that Nike said it is investigating.
Some employees said the deaths of two workers were related to the denial of medication, but Kidd said an internal investigation determined the reports were untrue.
The study also offered a glimpse of workers' everyday concerns. Two-thirds of the workers said they would like to have access to information about family planning. Others said they had trouble taking time off from work for illness; at one factory, workers said they needed to get five different signatures before being allowed to take a sick day, according to a Global Alliance spokesman.
The alliance's first report, which was issued last year, focused on Thai and Vietnamese workers, but it was criticized by labor groups for not concentrating enough on alleged workplace abuses.
The alliance said it plans to go back to the nine Indonesian factories in a year to see if conditions have improved. Nike said it plans to issue quarterly reports documenting its efforts to address the problems.
Staff writer Sarah Schafer contributed to this report from Washington.