Nike on Trial

Well, well -- Nike's swoosh got dinged.

The world's largest maker of athletic shoes and clothing swooshed into the U.S. Supreme Court last year arrogantly asserting a corporate right to lie. At issue is a 1998 case brought by a lone consumer activist named Marc Kasky. He claimed in California state courts that Nike had engaged in false advertising when it launched a PR campaign to fight off the charges that it was a global abuser of sweatshop labor.

Rather than denying that this PR campaign was false advertising, however, Nike took the novel tack of saying that its sweatshop statements were technically not advertising at all, but simply political statements that, legally, don't have to be truthful. The right to lie is a matter of corporate free speech, asserted its bevy of powerhouse corporate lawyers.

But, to the shock of Nike and all the rest of Corporate America, the California courts ruled last year that Nike's PR effort was meant to bolster its image and improve its sales -- so, indeed, it did amount to advertising and, as such, it needed to be truthful. This meant that Kasky's David-versus-Goliath case against the sultan of shoes would go to trial.

Not so fast. Nike's legal beagles rushed to Washington, begging the federal Supreme Court to overrule the state judges and stop the trial. They even got the Bushites to intervene on Nike's side, ludicrously claiming that Kasky was interfering with what should be the government's role in protecting consumers from deceptive advertising (Oh, yeah, we should all wait for the happy day when the Bush government leads the charge against corporate lying). Once again, though, Nike got a shock, for the Supremes have recently ruled that they will not intervene in the case, meaning Kasky is going to get his day in court after all.

This is Jim Hightower saying... If Nike loses the case, it will likely appeal again to the Supreme Court, but for now, little David has dinged Goliath right on his swoosh.


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