Manufacturers Are Watching Today's Nike Case

By Tonya Vinas An odd mix of supporters is hoping for a Nike Inc. victory as the Supreme Court opens its consideration today on Nike Inc. v. Marc Kasky. The original case was granted in Nike's favor, but California's Supreme Court reversed it. The debate centers on free speech. At issue is whether Nike violated consumer protection laws when it issued press releases regarding a favorable labor audit of overseas plants. Labor activist Kasky claims the press releases, which went to college campuses in an effort to avoid boycotts over labor abuses, constituted false advertising. Nike has argued that because the information was about labor, not products, it constitutes political speech, which is protected by the First Amendment. Additionally, it has been argued that no commercial transaction took place, such as a paid advertisement, so consumer protection laws don't apply. In addition to newspapers, a public relations group and other predictable free-speech supporters filing briefs on behalf of Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike, manufacturers such as ExxonMobil and Pfizer Inc. have weighed in. In addition, pro-business groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers want a Nike victory. All are fearful that a ruling against Nike would hinder the ability of companies to speak out on social issues. The Supreme Court is not considering the actual working conditions, past or present, of Nike plants.

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