After years of pressure to stop abusive practices in Nike's overseas plants, CEO Philip Knight has decided to revamp labor policies. In doing so, he becomes the one applying pressure--on other U.S. companies to match his new standards. On May 12, Knight pledged to raise the minimum worker age and let human rights groups help monitor its foreign plants, which employ half a million workers. Nike also will issue summaries of the groups' conclusions and use U.S. safety and health standards.
While Nike hasn't spelled out crucial details, such as how human rights groups will get plant access, activists cautiously applauded. Knight's pledges go further than other companies'--and could prompt action from President Clinton's apparel-industry task force on sweatshops. That group hasn't agreed on key issues such as monitoring. Meanwhile, critics wait to see whether other companies, such as Levi Strauss, will fall in line. "Nike's move will give us more leverage," says Medea Benjamin, head of Global Exchange, a San Francisco watchdog group.