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Investors Push Nike for Stronger Human Rights Practices

This blog is directed towards professionals interested in corporate governance, particularly those focused on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. It also caters to investors concerned with ethical sourcing and human rights practices within their investment portfolios.


The Role of Shareholder Activism in Enhancing Corporate Governance

Shareholder activism is seen as a pivotal force in modern corporate governance which is crucial in driving accountability and transparency across global supply chains. Dealing with concerns related to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues like supply chain transparency, forced labour, and human rights abuses, activists like Tulipshare are leveraging their shareholder influence in order to push corporate giants like Nike to embrace more rigorous ethical standards. 


This activism shows the importance of growing demand for corporations to disclose their operational practices as well as upholding ethical responsibilities towards workers and communities all around the world. As Nike faces constant pressure to address the allegations of labour rights violations and improve its supply chain transparency, the results of this shareholder proposal could set a precedent for corporate accountability and responsible business practices in the apparel industry.


Nike’s Shareholder Proposal: Calls for Improved Supply Chain Transparency and Human Rights Practices

Tulipshare, as mentioned above, is an advocacy group that represents concerned investors, has put forward a proposal which was meant for Nike which stressed the significant apprehensions regarding the company’s supply chain transparency and potential human rights violations. The proposal highlights the critical demand for Nike to disclose comprehensive metrics related to ESG (environmental, social, and governance) factors, especially focusing on subjects like forced labour risks and wage theft in its global operations. 


Tulipshare is asking them to disclose their data on their Tier 2 and Tier 3 supply chains which they do not currently offer. Inculcating these clauses requires the buyer and supplier to be on good terms in protecting human rights and become mutually responsible for the contract’s human rights performance. 


Revamping Nike’s supply contracts would significantly protect Nike and its suppliers including their shareholders, as well as workers who are at risk of being negatively impacted by this. 


By making sure that Nike is dedicated to transforming their ways regarding its supplier relationships, working conditions, as well as forced labour, Tulipshare, is on a mission to hold the multinational corporation accountable for upholding ethical standards across its extended supply chain network.


Being frequently praised and adored by well-known and top athletes, Nike is one of the most popular and lucrative clothing brands all over the world. They were among the first international brands to almost entirely outsource their production to factories located all over the world, making them pioneers in the supply chain. For the past 15 years, they have been able to raise their dividend payments to shareholders thanks to their lean manufacturing methodology, which has allowed them to consistently generate profits that have exceeded records. 


Yet the cost of this strategy falls on the garment workers, and Nike's reputation has frequently been linked to incidents involving sweatshops and other labour standards abuses. Nike was given the lowest possible rating in 2019 by Tailored Wages UK, which said that the company "can"

 Human rights

Metrics and Abuses: Concerns Over Forced Labor and Human Rights Violations

In a shareholder proposal released this Thursday, London-based Tulipshare asked for a report from Nike on whether its policies effectively address its stated equity goals and human rights commitments. 


This group owns 276 Nike shares and is willing to assist the investors in pushing for environmental and social commitments and have requested Nike to disclose their information on the methodology and metrics used to track forced labor and wage theft risks. 


They have also asked Nike to consider implementing model supplier contracts which were developed by the American Bar Association and to assess whether its findings lead to transformations in the company’s policies or decision-making 


“We now want Nike to be an industry leader and collaborate with their investors and stakeholders in identifying, assessing and avoiding actual or potential human rights abuses that may significantly disrupt their business, competitive advantage and the livelihoods of many workers," a spokesperson for Tulipshare said in a statement.


Tulipshare has reported that they have delivered this proposal to Nike and the latter acknowledged receipt. Requests for comment were not promptly responded to by the Nike official. In its most recent impact report from fiscal 2021, the company has listed labour rights, supply chain transparency, and forced labour as a few of the top concerns. According to the research, 85% of Nike’s exhaustive supply chain facilitates complying with the business’ fundamental labour, health, safety, as well as environmental needs. Therefore, the company now requires its suppliers to create and distribute internal codes of conduct.


Key areas of focus outlined in the proposal include:


Tulipshare demands transparency on Nike’s efforts to identify and mitigate risks which are related to forced labour within its supply chain. This involves detailed information on supplier auditing processes, measures taken to address forced labour incidents as well as policies aimed at ensuring fair and safe working conditions for all employees involved in Nike’s manufacturing processes.


The proposal also calls for clarity on Nike’s policies and practices which are related to wage theft and fair compensation for workers in its supply chain. This includes disclosing wage levels, benefits provided to workers, as well as the steps taken to address any discrepancies or violations related to fair labour standards.


Highlighted alongside these demands are ongoing labour complaints and controversies surrounding Nike's supply chain practices. These issues have garnered significant attention from advocacy groups, labour organizations, and media outlets, amplifying the urgency for Nike to address these concerns transparently and proactively.


By stressing these metrics and abuses, Tulipshare is aiming to compel Nike to adopt more stringent oversight and accountability measures, thereby safeguarding against human rights violations and improving supply chain transparency. The shareholder proposal serves as a crucial tool in holding Nike accountable for its corporate governance practices and promoting sustainable and ethical business operations in the global marketplace.


Nike's Response (or Lack Thereof)

As of today, it has been noticed that Nike still has not issued a formal response to Tulipshare’s shareholder proposal, nor have they directly addressed labour rights violations within its supply chain. This silence has now made the matter even more serious and widespread as many stakeholders have raised their concerns about this issue and the company’s commitment to transparency and accountability.


Everyone is waiting for their response and their lack of answers displays the challenges the companies face in balancing shareholder demands for transparency with operational complexities and potential reputational risks. 


Tulipshare has said that Nike has failed to disclose how they assess the risk of forced labour within its supply chain and has cited ongoing labour complaints against the company.


The U.S. State Department had received a complaint from a coalition of international garment worker unions and labour rights organizations accusing them of having violated guidelines from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development by instigating pay cuts and layoffs at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.


“Nike did not engage with garment worker unions representing Nike supply chain workers about those impacts, despite the OECD Guidelines’ expectation that multinational enterprises do so and despite unions’ requests for dialogue,” the complaint states.


As mentioned above, Nike’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for a comment about the allegations. However, the company has already stated that it is not true that they source products from China’s Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government is reported to have made labour camps for ethnic Ughyur and other groups.


In a fiscal 2022 statement on forced labour, Nike said it is growing its business "through long-term relationships with suppliers that are committed to our strict standards of sustainability and human rights, product excellence and compliance with local laws."


The Potential Impact of the Proposal on Nike’s Policies and the Broader Conversation About Supply Chain Responsibility

The potential impact of Tulipshare's proposal on Nike's policies and the broader conversation about supply chain responsibility is significant. If Nike responds positively, it could signify a proactive stance towards ethical sourcing. Improving transparency would ensure stakeholders, including investors, NGOs, and consumers have better insights into Nike’s supply chain operations. This transparency can help in mitigating risks related to forced labour, wage theft as well as other human rights abuses which have ruined the global supply chains. By inculcating flawless monitoring and reporting mechanisms, Nike could potentially set a new standard for accountability in the apparel industry.


Furthermore, a good response from their side which is expected by many could bolster their reputation as a socially responsible corporation which is sticking to ethical practices. This could help in the strengthening of brand loyalty among the customers who want to buy from companies that prioritize ethical considerations in their purchasing decisions. It may also attract socially conscious investors who increasingly factor environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria into their investment decisions.


However, if unfortunately Nike fails to respond adequately to the proposal or dismisses the allegations of labor rights abuses, it might have to encounter intensified scrutiny and criticism. This might also lead to reputational damage, consumer boycotts, as well as regulatory scrutiny which will impact its market share and financial performance. Due to this, Nike is under mounting pressure to demonstrate accountability and transparency across their supply chains before this topic spreads like wildfire.


Therefore, the outcome of Tulipshare's shareholder proposal at Nike is not merely about addressing specific allegations but also about shaping broader industry practices and norms. It underscores the evolving expectations of stakeholders regarding corporate responsibility and the imperative for companies to integrate ethical considerations into their core business strategies. As such, Nike's response will be closely watched as a barometer of its commitment to ethical supply chain management and its readiness to lead by example in the global marketplace.


Our Directors’ Institute- World Council of Directors can help you accelerate your board journey by training you on your roles and responsibilities to be carried out efficiently, helping you make a significant contribution to the board and raise corporate governance standards within the organization.



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