This article examines why Nike, the leading sports shoe and apparel merchandiser, has become a principal target of activism against sweatshop labor conditions in developing countries and why it has faced persistent public relations problems in its response to antisweatshop criticism. Nike has become a major target because it has successfully integrated different forms of corporate communication into the promotion of a high-profile corporate identity. The reflexive character of Nike’s promotionalism, however, has allowed for activist criticism that contrasts Nike’s claims of social responsibility with the labor conditions in its manufacturing operations. Antisweatshop activism, an example of what Beck calls subpolitics, is motivated by ethical interests, has a decentered network form of organization, and has a pluralistic, tactical focus. The effect of this activism has been to turn the debate over Nike’s labor practices into a dialectic between issues and crisis management, which accounts for Nike’s public relations problems.

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Journal Management Communication Quarterly
Knight, G. (Graham), & Greenberg, J. (2002). Promotionalism and subpolitics: Nike and Its Labor Critics. Management Communication Quarterly, 15(4), 541–570. doi:10.1177/0893318902154002