Nike Inc., the sportswear giant that was targeted for a black consumer boycott last week, said yesterday it will name a minority director to its board within a year and recruit a minority vice-president within two years.
Bowing to a week of public relations pressure orchestrated by Chicago-based Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity), Nike Chairman Philip H. Knight and President Richard K. Donahue released a letter sent to its employees that outlined a 24-month affirmative action plan.
At the same time, however, Nike officials continued to question the motives of Operation PUSH in initiating the boycott and charged that the civil rights group is in league with its chief competitor, Reebok International Ltd.
"Our business in the African-American community is significant," Knight wrote in his letter. "We have increased the number of African-American executives we have and need to keep increasing it -- in finance, in production, in sales, in marketing, in every department at Nike."
Operation PUSH founder Jesse L. Jackson said yesterday that Nike's actions are only a partial answer to the questions raised by PUSH and that the economic action will continue.
"They make an announcement without a discussion, and then continue to attack the credibility of the organization, which means they want to continue their public confrontation," Jackson said.
At Operation PUSH headquarters in Chicago, operators continued to answer the phones yesterday with a brisk: "Operation PUSH, say no to Nike" greeting. Jackson said that several black leaders who met with him and PUSH President Tyrone Crider in Washington yesterday have agreed to endorse the boycott as well.
Nike spokeswoman Liz Dolan said that she expects yesterday's statement to be Nike's final word on the matter until PUSH answers questions about its membership and sources of financial support. "This is what we stand for and this is what our values are," she said. "This is what we're going to do."
The basic disagreements between the two sides -- which have been exacerbated by the Reebok connection PUSH denies -- center on which minority groups should be counted as part of an affirmative action agreement, and on how much additional information Nike should be forced to disclose.
Knight said that the company's affirmative action plans include Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians and women. Women, Knight said, were "specifically excluded" from PUSH's considerations when the two sides met to discuss Nike's minority involvement.
"Frankly, our biggest disagreement with PUSH is that they are focused exclusively on African-Americans and we have a broader vision of equal opportunity than they do," Knight wrote. The company said last week that all of its athletic shoes are manufactured outside the United States.
Jackson denied that women have been excluded from PUSH's calculations and said that Nike is choosing to make its announcements without negotiating with PUSH in order to avoid answering other questions raised about its investments in South Africa.
"If they were sincere, they would raise the unanswered questions at the table, not in the press," Jackson said.
The Nike-PUSH dispute began when a series of meetings between representatives of the two organizations fell apart after Nike officials discovered that Reebok, which has not been the target of a similar boycott, took out a $6,000 ad in the PUSH magazine. Jackson said PUSH plans to meet with all the leading athletic footwear manufacturers.
Jackson said he and Crider met with Coach John Thompson -- who has an endorsement contract with Nike -- for an hour at Georgetown yesterday, and are seeking to reopen talks with Nike. Thompson, who did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday, said earlier this week that Nike should not be told how to run its company.
Jackson agreed, but said that PUSH's concerns are moral ones. "That's like saying Rosa Parks should not have been able to tell the Montgomery bus system how to run its company," he said. "Our demanding a fair share on our investment is not the same thing as telling them how to run their company. We are telling them, if you expect us to do business with you, we expect you to do business with us."