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Soccer Team Pressured To Drop Nike

April 22, 1998

ROME (AP) _ Leftist lawmakers are trying to force the Italian soccer federation to drop Nike as a sponsor of the national team, accusing the company of abusing its workers.

``Our soccer team is a major national symbol. It should not have a sponsor that exploits child labor,″ Alfio Nicotra, an official of the Communist Refoundation party, said Wednesday.

The party has asked sports minister Walter Veltroni to cancel Nike Italy’s $4 million sponsorship and presented him with reports that allege abuses of child and women workers in Indonesia and Vietnam.

The information comes from a January 1997 audit by the firm of Ernst & Young, and from U.S. labor and human rights groups.

The audit, commissioned by Nike, said workers in a large Vietnam shoe factory were exposed to a cancer-causing substance and had a high incidence of respiratory problems.

Nike Italy spokesman Massimo Giunco said the report was outdated and the company has improved conditions. He also said Communist Refoundation’s ``misleading information could have an impact by confusing consumers and could harm the company’s image.″

The party set it sights on Nike after the soccer federation unveiled the team’s jerseys for the upcoming World Cup finals earlier this month. The jerseys have the Nike ``swoosh″ emblazoned on the chest.

``At the least they should take the symbol off the jerseys,″ Nicotra said. ``If they won’t end the sponsorship, then some of the money from Nike should be earmarked for groups that fight for workers’ rights.″

Nike is also under pressure in California, where it was sued Monday over a campaign to defend wages and conditions at its Asian factories. The suit said the campaign was misleading and violates the state’s false-advertising laws.

The suit accuses Nike of trying to ``entice consumers who do not want to purchase products made in sweatshops.″

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