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Nike Reduces Bad Chemicals in Shoes

November 16, 1998

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Nike announced today it has reduced the amount of potentially unhealthy solvents used in making its shoes by almost three-fourths in the past three years.

Nike has set a goal of a 90 percent reduction by 2001, officials said, adding that the company intends to make sure that by the end of this year, no worker is exposed to dangerous levels of vapors.

The proportion exposed now has fallen to less than one percent on an average per factory basis, the Beaverton, Oregon-based company said at a seminar.

The company said it has installed new ventilation systems.

It also has replaced petroleum-based solvents with water-based chemicals, which have been equal in quality and cheaper to use, said Dick Crosbie, Nike’s director of footwear chemical engineering operations.

The effort followed accusations of poor working conditions at the Asian factories where Nike makes its shoes.

Other shoe companies manufacture their products under similar conditions, but Nike attracted the most criticism because of its position as a market leader.

In May, Nike chairman Phil Knight promised to raise the minimum age for workers at Nike’s contract plants in Asia to 18, improve factory air quality, allow independent monitoring and provide free education for workers.

Nike shoes are made at 37 factories belonging to contractors in six Asian countries: China, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and South Korea. The factories employ 180,000 people in all.

Representatives of Nike’s competitors, such as Adidas and Reebok, attended today’s seminar by invitation. Nike is keen to share its experiences of replacing petroleum-based chemicals with water-based ones, said Dusty Kidd, Nike’s director for labor practices.

The use of petroleum-based chemicals _ technically known as volatile organic compounds _ poses serious health hazards when their vapors are present in high concentrations. VOCs are commonly used in the production of many products, including footwear, where they are used in adhesives, primers, cleaners and flushing agents.

Tests conducted in 1997-98 under the auspices of Nike’s insurer, Reliance Insurance, identified 25 of those chemicals used in factories making Nike shoes, and found seven of the chemicals present at levels exceeding industry-standard permissible exposure limits. It was estimated that of the 180,000 workers in Asia, 1,600 faced exposure to the hazardous chemicals.

About nine out of ten pairs of Nike shoes now use water-based adhesives, Crosbie said.

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