Reebok - Managing Human Rights Issues 'Ethically?'

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Case Details:

Case Code : BECG019
Case Length : 13 Pages
Period : 1984 - 2002
Pub. Date : 2002
Teaching Note : Available
Organization : Reebok, China Labor Watch
Industry : Apparel and Footwear
Countries : China, USA

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This case study was compiled from published sources, and is intended to be used as a basis for class discussion. It is not intended to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a management situation. Nor is it a primary information source.

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Background Note

In 1885, Joseph William Foster (Foster), a famous athlete in the English Running Club (Bolton, UK) made spiked running shoes in his garden shed. In the early 1890s, he set up a company called "JW Foster & Sons, Inc.," to make hand made spike shoes.

Foster believed that due to their superior quality, such shoes could help athletes improve their performance in long distance track events. By 1900, the company developed a clientele of internationally reputed athletes. In 1933, Foster expired and the company was renamed "The Olympic Works." In the 1950s, Foster's grandsons - Jeff and Joe - started a new company called Reebok Sports Limited.4 In the 1960s and 1970s, as Reebok's business expanded, the company established its distribution outlets in several countries all over the world. In the 1970s, the company was renamed Reebok International Limited. By 1981, the company's sales touched $1.5 million. In 1982, Reebok launched 'Freestyle,' an athletic shoe for women, pioneering the concept of sports gear for aerobics.

In the same year, the company also launched its first tennis and fitness shoe for men. In 1984, Reebok got its shares listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Reebok's name was first heard in connection with human rights issues when, in 1986, it withdrew its operations from the Republic of South Africa (RSA) to protest against apartheid.5

In 1988, Reebok's HRD was established to address human rights issues in the company's operations across the world.

The company also instituted an annual Reebok Human Rights Awards to recognize and reward the contributions of young people (below the age of 30) across the world who made efforts to prevent human rights violations in their countries.

In the same year, Reebok also asked its sub-contractors in China to certify that they did not employ child labor in their factories...

Excerpts >>

4] The company was named after the African gazelle, which was known for its incredible speed.

5] An official policy of racial segregation involving political, legal and economic discrimination against non-whites.


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