The Hightower Lowdown

Nike does the right thing -- when it's forced to; Monsanto monkeys with Mexico's corn supply; the San Antonio Spurs and SBC stick it to taxpayers.

Women Stand Up to Nike

When it comes to the way workers are treated in the global economy, you can count on Nike to do the right thing. As long as it's forced to, that is.

Take the example of Mexmode, a Mexican garment factory that churns out thousands of Nike sweatshirts each day. The factory employs mostly young, single mothers with little education. Until recently, the pay at Mexmode was abysmally poor, child labor was used, and managers verbally abused and harassed the women. The women finally got fed up -- literally -- when they began to find worms in the food that was served at the company cafeteria, where they had to eat. They decided to boycott the cafeteria -- a small act of defiance that got them fired.

Nike, which makes millions of dollars annually from sales of the sweatshirts made by the women, did nothing about the firings or the conditions. But two U.S. advocacy groups did. The Workers Rights Consortium and United Students Against Sweatshops sent investigators to Mexmode, then joined the women in an international protest campaign that included publicly embarrassing the corporation with demonstrations in front of Nike stores and offices.

This was putting such a stain on the corporate swoosh that Nike was forced to clean up its act at Mexmode. The child labor was stopped, and the women won their jobs back, got a pay raise, were allowed to form an independent union ... and got rid of that lousy cafeteria food.

Nike now cites Mexmode as an example of its commitment to treat workers fairly: "We remain vigilant about these issues," declared a corporate PR flack. But Nike only acted because these women forced it to. And before we applaud too loudly for Nike, note that the women at Mexmode still are paid the miserable wage of under $5 a day -- way too little to support them and their children.

Press releases aside, corporations give exactly as much fairness and justice as they are forced to give.

More Monsanto Madness

If we are what we eat, Mexico is corn. More than the primary staple of the people's diet, corn is held in near religious reverence as a cultural symbol that connects Mexicans to their proud, pre-colonial past, as well as to the land itself. As one Mexican ecologist puts it: "The people are corn, and the corn is the people."

But now the corn is contaminated, thanks to the avarice and arrogance of Monsanto corporation. This biotechnology giant is the world's leader in marketing a poorly tested and ecologically dangerous corn seed that the company has genetically manipulated to contain its own pesticide.

From the start, independent scientists warned that once Monsanto unleashed these genetically altered corn plants, they could not be contained -- once loose, they would spread their pollen far and wide, contaminating neighboring fields of non-altered corn and spreading out of control.

As the Mexican people are learning the hard way, the scientists were right. Even though Mexico does not allow any genetically tampered corn seed to be used there, it appears that pollen flow across the border has already contaminated native varieties of corn in Mexico's interior.

This region of Mexico is the center of genetic diversity for the world's corn crop. If that diversity is lost because Monsanto's lab creation crowds out the native varieties, then the health and survival of all corn is endangered. It also means that no field, not even a field of organic corn, is safe from Monsanto's intentional pollution of our food supply.

To help stop this madness, contact The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods: 425/771-4049.

Getting Spurred in San Antonio

The San Antonio Spurs happen to be a good professional basketball team, but they're owned by wealthy private investors whose real game is to profit from corporate welfare. A couple of years ago, the Spurs Inc. entered into a cabal with their local political puppets to build a shiny, new $175 million basketball arena. These private enterprisers, however, turned socialist when it came to paying for their basketball palace. They got County Judge Cyndi Krier, whose husband heads the Chamber of Commerce, to lead the charge to jack up the motel/hotel tax to pay $157 million of the arena's cost.

A regular taxpayer can't afford to go to a game here -- you're looking at more than 200 bucks for a family to attend. But for $100,000 and up, corporations can get a dandy luxury skybox, with wet bar, dining table, lounge, and two large-screen televisions -- which they'll need, since they can't actually see the basketball floor from their exclusive enclave.

Meanwhile, in a PR move, the telephone giant SBC Corporation paid $41 million to the Spurs owners to buy the naming rights for this tax-paid arena, emblazoning "SBC Center" all across the building.

But SBC's PR move is backfiring among many San Antonians who have long complained about the company's rising phone bills and deteriorating service. SBC is headquartered in this city, but it has not a single customer service office there! If you call about a phone glitch, you wait days, and even weeks to get the glitch fixed.

Instead of putting the corporate name on the building, how about putting a customer service office in SBC Center -- then maybe the people would finally get something out of it.

Jim Hightower's latest book, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.
For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle