Racism, transgressive sexual behavior and a culture of fear. In the Groningen Nike Factory Store, according to (former) employees, a regime is conducted that is at odds with the values with which Nike presents itself worldwide. The head office has been informed, but according to the staff did not intervene and remained silent (until now).
Translated by Adriana Dancu
There is a dispute at the Nike shop in the Westerhaven in Groningen. Six (former) employees sounded the alarm about a manager who uses racial language, discriminates against both employees and shoppers, and displays sexually transgressive behavior. The sources paint a striking picture that creates a culture of fear in the workplace where people do not dare to speak up. Following several long days of inaction, Nike stepped in to terminate the manager in question.
Laura from Groningen is one of them, and decided to break a collective silence. She worked as a manager in the store, but quit early last month. She wrote a letter to Nike headquarters full of examples of what is happening at the shop in Westerhaven: “In four short weeks, I personally witnessed gross racism, sexism and discrepancy from my immediate supervisor, the store manager.”
“Keep an eye on people with dark skin color”
Five others underline the picture sketched by Laura, three of them still working in the shop. A constant factor in all allegations was the store manager; according to the sources, he orders staff to keep a close eye on darker-skinned customers, in a blatant racial profiling act.
Laura experienced this on her first working day: “During the tour of the store, the store manager explained that stereotypes do not exist for nothing. It was, according to him, mostly black and brown people stealing things. He even demonstrated that policy by following a black man in the store for an unnecessarily long time during the tour.”
“Staff must check each other”
It does not stop at checking and monitoring customers. The employees were told to also keep an eye on each other, which created mutual distrust between employees.
Nathalie from Groningen also worked in the store as a manager, until the end of October. She also wrote a letter to the Nike head office about her displeasure, in which she talks about a situation where she had to check a colleague’s bag, in case theft had occurred.
According to Nathalie, the allegation made no sense and she refused: “Then he got very angry with me. I constantly had to spy on my staff.” She was fed up with that and went against him. “Then he teased me structurally and for a long time,” says Nathalie.
Like Laura, Nathalie has also witnessed racist and disparaging comments and requests of the store manager: “He often called black people ‘those blacks’ and he was constantly making racist jokes.”
By virtue of her management position, Nathalie was also responsible for the personnel. In one instance, she had a conversation with the manager about the quality of the staff, which could be improved here and there, and he made racist jokes: “He said, ‘Who will come here working for peanuts? Monkeys,’” said Nathalie.
The allegations brought forward by the former employees are backed up by three employees who still work in the store. Harold is one of them. “We are constantly called in when a black family comes in. The manager requires us to follow them strictly, even if the family doesn’t do anything crazy and just shops like everyone else,” said Harold.
Another employee gives the face mask policy as an example of racist behavior: “We always gave away mouth masks for free. However, because, according to the manager, certain ethnic groups only came for the free masks, we stopped doing so.”
Two of the three former employees also spoke of manager that displays sexually transgressive behavior. Nathalie says that: “He often sat behind the screens peeping at images of female employees unpacking boxes. I caught him a few times myself while he was looking at me secretly.”
One situation she remembers well is the one with the mini dresses. The manager instructed Nathalie and another female colleague to put on dresses and show them to him: “That happened under the necessary duress. We didn’t want to do it, but because he insisted, we put on the dresses and showed them in his office. He asked why I was still wearing my leggings underneath, that I would look much better without them.”
Reporting to Nike headquarters
The former employees made the allegations known to the head office. Two of them wrote a pressing letter. The third describes the situations in a personal conversation. All three claim it will lead to nothing. Nathalie says that she “did have a conversation about the incident with the mini dresses, but no action was taken. In the end, my contract was not renewed. I think because I opposed this policy.”
That also happens to Marloes, she says. After her letter, she was invited for an interview with HR. “They dismissed all my objections and would not take any action against the manager,” says Marloes. All that happened was that her contract was not renewed. Just like Nathalie and Laura, she thought she had an important position with a great future within Nike.
The fact that Nike does not intervene gives the staff the feeling that the head office is closing its eyes to the problems and is backing the manager. It creates a culture of fear in the workplace.
“The staff is very stressed. There is (mutual) distrust. We have a great team and are capable of great things, but this manager destroys everything. This can’t be the way Nike works, can it?” says Nathalie.
The employees say they expect from Nike that this behavior will not be tolerated.
Nike repeatedly launched major campaigns around the world that condemn racism. “I was impressed with how Nike presented itself in the racism debate and was happy to have a management role in that company,” says Laura. Practice turns out to be different, however.
The (former) employees believe that criticism of the manager is not possible. There would be selective punishment: “People who commented on his method were dealt with harshly and publicly. Employees who did not say anything about it were, on the contrary, favored, and received a much nicer treatment.”
The employees who still work in the shop confirm the image that the former employees paint. Harold says he hopes that Nike will do something: “I really hope this will come out. It is a gross scandal that Nike does not intervene.”
These allegations were presented to the manager of the Nike Store when visiting the store. However, he did not want to respond to them: “I make no comments, just contact the head office.”
After a week of silence following the allegations, the Nike Store manager was fired, and Nike released a statement in that regard: “At Nike, we are committed to fostering a culture and environment of inclusivity, empowerment and respect for all our employees and consumers,” reads a statement made by Nike.
Laura says in her letter that she also wants to stand up for people who still work at the Nike store, but are afraid to take action. That is also important for Nathalie. She writes that the manager is rude and abusive to staff. “After three weeks I already went to work with lead, something I had never experienced before. I felt unfairly treated and was scared. Fortunately, talking to colleagues helped. That’s how I found out that I wasn’t crazy, but that everyone experienced it that way.”
The information for this article comes via the Dagblad van het Noorden, who interviewed three former and three current employees at the Nike Store in Groningen.
The source article can be found here.