HIGHTOWER: Nike's "Freedom to Choose"

Nike Inc. made an offer that Jonah Peretti couldn't refuse.

Actually, the offer was made to all Nike customers: Buy a pair of its pricey shoes and, for a fee, the company will personalize your shoes by stitching any name, word, or phrase you want under the Nike swoosh. It's called the "Nike iD" program, which the company Web site advertizes as being "about freedom to choose and freedom to express who you are."

Peretti sent in his money and the word he wanted -- only to get back a form letter stating that his Personal ID was rejected. The form leter said his word was unacceptable for one or more of the following reasons: (1) it contains someone else's trademark, (2) it contains the name of an athlete whose name is not licensed to Nike, or (3) it contains profanity or inappropriate slang.

But Peretti said none of these applied, and he resubmitted his word choice to Nike. His word was "sweatshop." He politely pointed out the word is not a trademark, an athlete's name, or profanity. In his letter back to Nike, he wrote: "I chose the ID because I wanted to remember the toil of the children who made my shoes. Could you please ship them to me immediately? Thanks and Happy New Year."

Nike sent another rejection letter, this one asserting that "sweatshops" was inappropriate slang. Undaunted, Peretti wrote back, saying that in Webster's Dictionary, "I discovered that sweatshop is in fact part of standard English, and not slang. The word means: 'a shop or factory in which workers are employed for long hours at low wages and under unhealthy conditions'." That's the very definition of many Nike factories in China, Vietnam, and elsewhere. So, Peretti asked again for his personalized shoes.

Once again, Nike said no. This time, it said flathly that you don't have "freedom to choose" after all, claiming that small print on its Web site allows it to reject any "material we consider inappropriate or simply do not want to place on our products."

This is Jim Hightower saying ... Nike gives its customers about as little real freedom as it gives its sweatshops workers.


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