LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES
Interview With Ralph Nader
Aired May 23, 2003 - 19:40 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we're going to keep it on the money issue here. Before we went to the news conference there, we were talking about LeBron James. If you're not familiar with him, he is the 18-year-old basketball sensation. He is a high school senior and he has signed a contract, an endorsement contract with Nike for $90 million, all before he is actually joined a team in the NBA, before he even has his high school diploma.
Not a bad place to be in, but also puts him in the spotlight and that brings us to our next guest and that is Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate who actually has come out and asked LeBron James -- wrote LeBron James a letter saying please don't do a deal with Nike and Ralph Nader is our guest this evening.
Ralph, good to have you with us.
RALPH NADER, CONSUMER ADVOCATE: Thank you.
KAGAN: Tell us exactly -- part of it exactly and the point of the letter to LeBron James and what you wanted this young man to do or rather not do.
NADER: Well, the letter was very simple. It said that he was about to sign a very lucrative contract with one of the three major shoe manufacturers who used contractors in Vietnam and Indonesia with thousands and thousands of workers who are brutalized and they're not even paid the legal minimum wage, terrible working conditions and their sacrifices in those countries and the sacrifices of their families are making Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike, Nike Corporation and LeBron James very wealthy.
And I suggested that he could stoke the conscience of human rights groups and human groups against sweat shops and labor groups in this country by conditioning his contract, by saying, Give these folks a break. Put a little pressure those subcontractors. They're making 20 cents an hour in Vietnam if they're lucky under horrible working conditions. They can only go to the bathroom once every eight hours. They're often brutalized.
KAGAN: Ralph -- Ralph, let me just jump in here a second.
NADER: He didn't respond.
KAGAN: I'm going to -- I'm going to get to Nike's response in a moment because they weren't able to send a representative to counter some of your very strong points.
But -- but -- but just on the basic idea of doing this. Isn't this a lot to ask of an 18-year-old kid to carry the burden on his shoulders?
NADER: No, it isn't because now he's getting a man's wealth and he's in a man's game. And he's a very bright student. He knows what's going on. He can look back at the examples set by Mohammed Ali and Arthur Ashe and Martina Navritalova, both very -- all successful athletes who stood up on a controversial issue on a moment of conscience and advance justice in their area and the world.
Nobody's asking him to sacrifice a lot, but simply to ask Nike...
KAGAN: Only $90 million.
NADER: . . to put on their annual report -- yes, no, you don't sacrifice 90.
KAGAN: You don't?
NADER: He had huge bargaining power and now that he's cut the contract - he's not going to lose the 90. We're going to ask him and we're going to have human rights and labor and other groups asking him to speak up occasionally on these horrible conditions overseas so that these workers can feed their families and not sacrifice to make a small number of executives and ballplayers super rich.
KAGAN: OK. I want to get to Nike's response here just to make this more of a fair conversation.
Nike replied saying, "Critics such as Ralph Nader" -- they go right to you -- "often conveniently choose to overlook basic business tenets. In our business jobs are created as a result of increased consumer demand that is generated by elite athletes and the innovative products that they develop at Nike."
Nike basically saying, if we're not in Vietnam and places like that, then those people have no jobs.
NADER: Wait a minute. It's one thing to replace American jobs and go overseas. It's another thing to grind these workers into the ground.
The minimum wage in Vietnam is not even being met by some of the subcontractors. There's a factory with 6,000 workers. You wouldn't want to see the working conditions that they're having to operate on. The cost of a Nike shoe is $3 in terms of the labor cost and a pair of Nike shoes can be sold in this country and is sold in this country for $80, $100, $150. That's expensive exploitation.
KAGAN: It sounds like you're not going to give up just with a simple letter to LeBron James, that you hope his education and world issues will continue as his basketball career grows as well.
NADER: I think so. I think Aaron Goodwin (ph), his agent, shouldn't give up on a very bright athlete who can help raise the living standards of hundreds of thousands of people by his example.
KAGAN: Ralph Nader, thanks so much. Appreciate your time this evening, sir.
NADER: Thank you.
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