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Just Sew It! — Vietnam is Home to 10 Nike Factories Where 75 Million Pairs of Running Shoes are Made Each Year

Vietnam is home to 10 Nike running shoe factories.

Let's put aside for a brief moment, the continuing controversy regarding Nike, its Third-World subcontractors, sweatshop working conditions, anti-Nike labor groups, and "Just Don't!" college activists. Nike is not alone among the footwear giants that make running shoes overseas. The labor costs are ridiculously low; Chinese workers make $1.75 a day; Vietnamese workers earn $l.60 a day; and Indonesian workers receive up to $2.46 a day. For these workers, employment at a Nike factory is still a way out of grinding poverty. But as interviews in the press and documentaries have shown, factory work can grind down employees through a variety of means: mandatory overtime, sheer monotony, and breathing toxic solvent fumes all day. In 2008, more than 20,000 workers at a Nike factory in Vietnam went on strike demanding higher pay to cope with rising inflation. According to BBC News, "the average monthly salary at the Taiwanese-owned plant {was} about $59 (£30), 14% more than the minimum wage. The workers, who produce about 12% of the 75 million pairs of shoes made for Nike in Vietnam a year, wanted a 20% pay rise and better canteen lunches." There have been other factory-wide strikes in Vietnam which is home to 10 Nike factories.

Now, all this is not something pleasant to think about when slipping on a pair of Nike Frees and going for a run --here at Zero Drop, the Frees are our faves. So how does one reconcile these two facts -- a $100 pair of running shoes cost less than five dollars to make! Is the answer to go barefoot? Not run in shoes? Find a brand that pays its workers a lot more? Then what happens to the running shoe factories in places like Vietnam? Would they have to shut down and lay off all their workers? We tend to forget that New England was once home to hundreds of footwear companies. (After laying idle for years, many have turned into lofts and pricey condos.) Adam Smith wrote about the "invisible hand" of capitalism to describe the self-regulating nature of the marketplace. With the globalization and manufacture of running shoes, should we amend that to also mean "invisible foot?" Nike, if you might recall, first began producing its shoes in Japan, then moved its operations to South Korea, where wage inflation and bad press, convinced Phil Knight's company to move its production to Vietnam.

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