Interview with Jim Keady and Leslie Kretzu
Co-Directors for Educating for Justice
Asbury Park, NJ
October 5, 2004

Co-directors Keady and Kretzu lived for one month in Indonesia on the wage of Nike apparel workers. Related links:,

mR: microRevolt
LK: Leslie Kretzu
JK: Jim Keady

mR: If you could start by saying who you are and what Educating for Justice does.

LK: I am Leslie Kretzu and this is Jim Keady and we are the directors of Educating for Justice (EFJ). EFJ is a non-profit organization, based in Asbury Park, New Jersey, that focuses on educating mainstream Americans about social injustices. We provide justice-oriented materials to the educational marketplace. At the moment, we've chosen sweatshops as our focus. We are working on a full-length feature film that will debut in 2005, focused on the issue of Nike factory workers in Indonesia. In addition to the film, we give presentations at colleges, high schools, union halls, churches and community groups on Nike's labor practices. We've given presentations at roughly 180 colleges and high schools in the past 4 years.

In addition to EFJ Films and EFJ's Traveling Classroom events, we're in the process of building out the Resource section of our website. When complete, it will have free educational resources such as teacher lesson plans, booklists, film suggestions, and more. In general, the information that we will showcase will be information on issues that most students are not getting in their classrooms: issues of economic justice and social justice like world hunger, global trade, nuclear proliferation, human trafficking and more.

Among other things, our materials will offer the viewpoint of the poor and marginalized. Readers will hear first-hand from people who are directly affected by the particular injustice profiled. For example, on the topic "sweatshops", we'll have countless interviews with workers who produce for major brands like Nike and the Gap. Eventually, we hope to see that students gain better critical analysis skills when exploring information that they receive from traditional sources, such as the media, corporations, and governments - information that they might get packaged in their textbooks in a very sterile way.

mR: Do you feel like there is an absolute lack of education about sweatshops? Like when you go into high schools, do people know what that word means?

LK: We've found that people have heard about sweatshops in a general sense, but most people have no idea about the horrific conditions and the never-ending anxiety that accompanies desperate poverty. We have seen that there is a real void of information out there regarding sweatshops. Unfortunately, students will hear about issues of social and economic justice only if their teacher knows about the issue and can find age-appropriate resources for students. We have found only rare examples of institutionalized justice learning. For the most part, it depends on the teacher and when that teacher leaves, there is a complete void of this kind of information. That's why EFJ is focused, in the long term, on providing those educational resources for teachers.

mR: What do you hope that students and teachers can do about this problem?

JK: In the long term, it's a problem of establishing institutional mechanisms - government institutional mechanisms - to ensure that sweatshops don't exist. We saw in our own country's history that when people got organized and the labor movement became a real force in the United States, we saw positive change. For example, we now have the minimum wage; we have weekends; we have an 8-hour workday; we have health benefits.

All of these things were non-existent until organized labor emerged as a real political force in the United States. We've gotten those gains here in the U.S., but what's unfortunate is that as we have evolved - as production has shifted to places in the developing world - we didn't export that learning process and export those values that we came to cherish here. We have recognized that certain protections are needed in the workplace (not only to insure the protection of workers' rights, but also to increase productivity), and it's like we forgot everything we learned, which to me as an educator seems foolish. For example, if I learn something through experience and I find out that I made horrible mistakes, I'm not going to then let my students make those same horrible mistakes all over again. I'm going to say "Here's what I learned. Hopefully with this knowledge, you don't have to go through the same pain and suffering." It almost seems counterproductive from a common sense standpoint not to share these commitments to a minimum wage and labor protections. But it makes a lot of sense when the only thing you're focused on is the bottom line and maximizing profits for shareholders.

mR: Maybe we should shift now to some of the experiences that I'm sure you bring as educators to the classroom. Could you talk about your experiences with the Nike workers in Indonesia and also your film?

JK: I think that the best place to start is to probably give a little background. Why are we concerned about this issue, so passionate about it and working on it on a full time basis? I got involved in the sweatshop issue as a coach a St. John's University in New York City back in 1997. At the time, I was coaching there, St. John's had (and still has) one of the top men's soccer programs in the country. In 1996, we had won the NCAA Division 1 national championship. We were shooting for a second championship in '97 while I was a graduate assistant soccer coach. At the same time that I was coaching with this amazing team, I was working on a graduate degree in Theology. In my first class "Moral Person, Moral Society," I decided on a whim to look at the Nike corporation and their labor practices in light of what's called "Catholic Social Teaching." And for me, this was just a research paper topic, nothing really exciting. What I found was that if you wanted to pick a company that violated everything that Catholic Social Teaching was about, Nike was the perfect case study. Ironically, at the same time that I was doing my research, St. John's Athletic Department was in the middle of negotiations with Nike on a $3.5 million dollar endorsement contract, part of which would require me as a coach to wear and promote the products.

In light of what I had learned about Nike, I started to question this pending relationship, first privately and then publicly. I raised questions like, "How can we as Catholics in good conscience promote for a company that has so obviously violated their workers' rights?" I eventually took a public stand and said that as a Catholic in good conscience, I cannot and will not be a walking advertisement for the Nike corporation. Through my head coach, St. John's gave me an ultimatum: you'll wear Nike and drop this issue or you get out, end of story. So I was forced to resign.

That eventually became big news. It was on HBO, ESPN, on the front page of the Metro section in the New York Times, "God and Swoosh at St. John's." The Associated Press picked the story up and then I started to get invited to places to speak about this issue, as the first athlete or coach in the world to say "no" to one of these endorsement contracts because of Nike's exploitation of workers in the developing world.
When I would speak at these different colleges, people would tell me that I didn't know what I was talking about; that those were great jobs in those countries; and that you can live like a king on a dollar a day in a place like Indonesia. So I decided: I'm going to go find out for myself. I approached Nike and I said I would like to work in one of their factories in Southeast Asia. I said I wanted to work for a month. They said a month won't be long enough, you'll just finish your training and you'll have to leave, so you won't be productive for us. They said I don't speak any Southeast languages and that would be a problem. And, they said, you'll displace a worker and we care about our workers.

So I wrote them back and I said, I'll go for six months, I'll go for a year. Tell me how long you think I need to go to understand what's going on there. I said you're right, I don't speak any Southeast Asian languages but I do speak Spanish, you can send me to one of your factories in Mexico. And I understand that I would displace a worker so I found a group here in the U.S. that's agreed for the worker I displace, they'll fly that worker to the United States and give them room, board and a stipend. They can take my place in a sense, and do whatever they want while I take their job. Nike wrote back a one-line response: "We're not interested in your counter offer."

So now I'm still stuck with the challenge: how do I get other athletes, coaches, and students who have maybe heard about this issue, to really get it. I wanted them to understand it more than they would an article for a research paper. I wanted them to understand it in real human terms - to really flesh this out in a context that they can relate to. So I said, if I can't work in one of Nike's factories, I can certainly live with the workers. What better way to get to understand somebody's reality than to live with them. So, I designed a research project along with Leslie, where we went and lived in Tangerang, Indonesia (an industrial suburb outside of Jakarta) for one month. And for that month, we tried to live on the highest basic wage we could find that was being paid to Nike workers. At the time, it was a $1.25 a day.

We lived in a rat-infested slum for a month and it was absolutely horrible. I lost 25lbs in the month, and Leslie lost 15lbs. What was most important in doing this experiment was the act of living in solidarity with the workers. Workers began to trust us in ways that I don't think they've trusted other researchers who sometimes just parachute in, get their story for the paper that they're writing, and then they're gone. We were there, and did our best to try and understand their experience. The workers opened up to us in ways for our film "Sweat" that people here have never seen before. And the stories that were shared, and the depths of the stories and the passion, and the anger, and the despair and the hope that we found, I think people are really going to relate to those universal themes that we all are touched by in some way as human beings.

mR: And so, while you guys were working with them, that's when the "Sweat" documentary was being shot. So you went with the intention of making this documentary?

LK: Well we went in 2000 to live on the wages of Nike factory workers, shoot a small documentary and come back to the United States to do a 10-week speaking tour. We've done that, but we've been on the road for 4 years. We actually ended up going back to Indonesia two more times, once with a professional film crew to get better quality footage for the film when we realized we had a major film in our hands and we needed to produce it in the best way possible.

mR: So without giving away what the film is about, what did you learn? What are you trying to educate through this film? And more also about Nike in particular?

LK: One thing that we really want to do is to elevate Nike factory workers to the level of expert on these issues, rather than having academics and other CNN-style talking heads as the expert about sweatshop conditions and what needs to be done for "those people" (the workers). Workers will be able to tell the public exactly what it is they need, and you can't argue with that first-hand perspective, because they're living it every day. When you have a worker say "I'm going into debt in order to meet my basic needs," there is no way that a Nike executive can argue against that and maintain credibility. We want to juxtapose the public relations materials that major corporations put out, with real stories from workers.

JK: I think one of the problems that we face on a range of injustices- whether it's the sweatshop issue, poverty, the war that we have right now- there is such a lack of human connection. It's much more difficult to make these glib statements about "those people" when you know them. If they were friends of yours, would you say "Well hey, that's their lot and they've just got to deal with it. That's part of economic development." If that was your brother or sister or your mother would you be so dismissive of the injustice that they're facing?
And that's what I continually find, and again, going beyond the sweatshop issue with our current global situation, the stakes are way too high. We're not just talking about the making of shoes, we're talking about the slow death of poverty for hundreds of thousands of people. They're people. Just like us. We just don't know them. And if we knew them on a real human level, we probably wouldn't feel that it is ok to do x, y, and z to them.

Bringing it back to the sweatshop issue, if we knew the people that made our shoes and our clothes, for one, we might be incredibly more thankful for the handicraft work that they do, so that we can have cool stuff to wear. But also, we would want to make sure that they were treated well. They're not asking for a lot, they're asking to make a wage that allows them to buy food, clothing, housing, basic healthcare, education (for their kids) and modest savings. To simply afford food, drinking water and a one-room apartment would be a boost. That is not a lot to ask for when you're willing to put in an 8 to 15 hour day, doing some tough manual labor.
Since I started with this work, my goal has been to humanize the lived reality of the poor. These human beings are not just statistics in some economic study and they're not just a case study in a research paper and they're not just someone that you read about in a newspaper article. They are people.

mR: Do you think it requires somebody like you to go over there with a film crew to expose these conditions to a mainstream American audience?

JK: Yes. I think that, in a positive light, the power of film is amazing. It's like no other medium in that it really reaches people. You can deliver information in a way that you can't deliver in a novel or an article or a case study. Now what's disappointing is that there have been a number of documentaries about the sweatshop issue that are out there (short films - some good, some not so good) that haven't galvanized people. As an educator, one of the reasons I firmly believe that they haven't galvanized people is that the people who are on the screen from beginning are "foreigners" and people here in the United States can't relate to them.

Now, we're not foreigners to people in the US. So we're going to go to Indonesia, and you're going to come with us on this virtual immersion. And automatically that audience that we're looking to target is going to visually relate to us. And they won't be able to just dismiss the information from workers because "we're just like them". As we start to go through this experience, we hope that they will empathize with us. Now the next key point in the film is transferring that empathy to the workers themselves. And that's what we hope to do by being almost like guides through this journey on trying to understand the sweatshop issue. We'll be able to take that real deep empathy that we feel for people "who are like us", and bring it now to everybody, and in this case it would be Indonesians producing sneakers and clothing for the Nike corporation.

mR: And once you have sort of moved your audience, I have gone to your film and am moved, I can free associate because I am also white, female, middle class, and I have gained empathy, what do you hope it is going to incite, how does this audience take away from what they now know through that empathy?

JK: I think that's one of the things that we do very differently. One of the shortcomings of the movement - the anti-sweatshop movement or "pro-worker-justice movement" as we like to say - is that the issue draws feelings of deep empathy, but some groups leave people without real action items. We've got to get beyond and into some concrete things people can do. What can you do as a citizen? As an athlete? As an educator? As a business person? Act 3 of our film is our journey back here in the United States, using a multi-pronged approach to try and move this corporation to have more just labor practices and environmental practices. All of the people we've met along the way that are using their particular skill sets to create change will be showcased. Whether you're a development economist, you're a congressional representative, you're a rock star, you're a member of the media, you're a student at a university or a high school, you're an American working to support a family and raise your children well – we hope that everyone leaving the theater will say, "I can do something to help chip away at the injustice that these people are experiencing." By the end of the film, when we showcase different people who are taking positive, concrete actions to change the situation, we hope that every audience member can relate in some way. Now they've got models for action.

And then, to follow that up on an even deeper level: now is when you start to tie the different types of multi-media together and our websites,, and then our company website, will have this seamless theme. When people go to any one of those sites, they will be plugged into different concrete actions that they can take, one of which, the most concrete of which, is just learning more. We hope that the film begs deeper questions that we're not going to be able to get into in a 2-hour film. You can't cover everything. So if we can just spark people's interest, have them say "Wow what about this." Boom. End of the film. Learn more: And then, they've got that entry way into the deeper issues and the resources, hopefully, at their fingertips.