Philip H. Knight, the co-founder and chairman of Nike Inc., said on Monday that he had pledged to give Stanford University $400 million to recruit graduate students around the globe to address society’s most intractable problems, including poverty and climate change.
The gift to the new Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program, which is modeled on the Rhodes scholarships, matches one of the largest individual donations ever to a university, the $400 million that John A. Paulson, the hedge fund tycoon, gave to Harvard last year to improve its engineering school. The Stanford project is meant to improve the world.
“This is using education to benefit mankind and I think it really could be transformative,” Mr. Knight said in a phone interview. “I jumped on it right away.”
Leaving out the fact that giving $400 million to one of the world’s richest institutions is a terrible way to solve any kind of problem except perhaps your own tax bill, I wonder if Phil Knight could do anything else to solve poverty? Like stop exploiting workers in low-wage sweatshops? Maybe?
But the reality is that the long-term exploitation of people at very low wages is completely OK with Americans and their companies in ways that other forms of oppression are not. See Nike distancing itself from the homophobe Manny Pacquiao, rightfully damning one horrible thing while completely embracing another because it creates profit.
Moas couldn’t square Nike’s seemingly PR-oriented move with its actions, which include a history of sweatshop production, slave wages and child labor practices in Southeast Asian countries.
“So Nike is pro-gay and anti-gay comments are unacceptable to them?” Moas asked in an email to investors Thursday morning. “That is great, but their use of sweatshops is okay? I guess people being abused in sweatshops can’t boycott because they have no money to pay $100 for a $5 pair of shoes.”
“Nike pays Kevin Durant $300,000,000 and LeBron James $500,000,000,” wrote Moas. “The 100,000 workers in Indonesia at the Nike sweatshop get paid $3 a day. Nike’s market cap is now $99 billion. They could take 3% of their $3 billion profit and double the salaries of the 100,000 Indonesian workers.”
Nike has been criticized over the years for its outsourced labor practices, but has tried to re-shape its image in recent years.
A Nike spokesperson told Benzinga the company had no comment on the matter at time of publishing.
And while most of the talk about Nike and sweastshops in 2016 is about how it is better than any other companies at controlling its supply chain, thanks to the terrible publicity it received in the 1990s over its Indonesian contractors, the reality is that these are still very poor people. If Phil Knight wants to solve poverty, how about making sure the people assembling his shoes receive a quality wage that raises standards throughout the industry and allows the creation of a Vietnamese or Indonesian middle class, not to mention the potential of making some of these shoes in the United States and recreating an American middle class? That would go a whole lot further to poverty alleviation than giving a bunch of money to Stanford.