Reebok's New Garment Line: The Hair Shirt

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Planet Reebok is beaming mea culpas to Earth — and winning rave reviews from its would-be inquisitors. The sports shoe manufacturer on Monday released a harshly critical internal survey of working conditions at its Indonesian factories. It was a move calculated to head off criticism from the U.S. anti-sweatshop lobby — and, perhaps, to show up its larger rival, Nike, which remains a target of criticism for labor practices at its Asian plants despite the company’s reform efforts. Reebok’s report cited poor health and safety regulations at its Indonesia plants, conditions the company promises to clean up.

"Reebok has handled this pretty well," says TIME Business editor Bill Saporito. "Working conditions in their plants has become a competitive issue for footwear manufacturers, because consumers want to support companies they consider to be good guys." Reebok’s self-critical report was welcomed by the labor-rights group Global Exchange, which has previously exposed exploitative labor practices and low pay in the Asian factories of American footwear manufacturers. The organization called on other companies to be equally honest about conditions at their foreign plants. And that’s a publicity bonus for Reebok in a market where image is all important. Says Doug Cahn, vice president for Reebok's Human Rights Programs, "By sharing the report broadly, we hope it can have a positive impact for the entire athletic footwear manufacturing industry." In other words, message to Nike: Are you feeling it?