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Friday, June 6, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nike Protests `Doonesbury' Theme

AP

HONG KONG - Nike is challenging "Doonesbury" over factory conditions in Vietnam.

The sportswear giant says Garry Trudeau's cartoon strip unfairly portrays its Vietnam factories as sweatshops where workers are abused and paid too little to eat properly.

They actually earn two to three times the average per-capita income of $200 a year in rural Vietnam, said Martha Benson, director of Asia-Pacific communications for Nike International.

Her remarks appeared in a letter published in today's South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper that carries "Doonesbury."

"Doonesbury" appears in the editorial pages of The Seattle Times.

The strip that ran in the last week of May showed a worker saying "I cannot even afford to eat" on a wage of $1.60 a day.

Benson wrote that meals in Vietnam cost 9 cents on average.

The strip shows a Vietnamese American visiting her Nike-employed cousin in Vietnam and emerging outraged at conditions.

Benson said most Nike workers can save enough salary to send money home for their families, and receive free medical care, English lessons and training.

A comic strip "is not meant to be an accurate depiction of life," she wrote, but "it should not be a vehicle for spreading hearsay."

"As someone who spends a great deal of time in the factories talking to workers about issues such as wages and working conditions, I am surprised that inaccurate information is being spread in a light-hearted manner through a daily cartoon," she wrote.

Comment was not immediately available from Trudeau or Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes "Doonesbury."

Links to Nike's Web site are on The Seattle Times Today's News Web site at: http://www.seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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