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The politics of footwear under scrutiny

* 27 May 2003 *

The politics of footwear under scrutiny

Do you know how much the person who made your trainers is paid? Or what their working conditions are like?

The conduct of multinational footwear companies will come under scrutiny at a conference on global regulation this week (29-31 May) at the University of Sussex.

"I'm looking at labour conditions in four companies - Nike, Reebok and Adidas as well as in one huge manufacturing company in Taiwan," says postgraduate student Jeroen Merk, who will give his paper on 'Codes of conduct and wages in the athletic footwear chain' as part of the conference.

"Most protests about labour conditions have been focussed on the well known brand name companies, but those companies now outsource their production so that in many cases all the shoes are actually produced by the same manufacturer," says Jeroen.

A large proportion of athletic footwear production has been moved to China, Vietnam and Indonesia where labour costs are low. The regulations in these countries are often quite good, but they are not necessarily implemented properly.

"These workers cannot form independent trade unions and so it is difficult for them to put pressure on the companies themselves," says Jeroen. "It would be much better if the governments of these countries did something, but it's not their top priority."

"I'm looking at the relationship between the manufacturers and the well known companies and the competition between the brands," says Jeroen.

Conference organiser Professor Kees van der Pijl says, "The idea for the conference is the feeling that the de-regulation set in motion under Reagan and Thatcher has produced instability in the global political economy and society more generally."

"The conference aims to take stock of where we are in this process and what the consequences have been," he adds.

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Press Office contacts: Peter Simmons or Jacqui Bealing, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456, email or

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