A consumer activist claims that Nike’s press releases and literature dealing with working conditions at its factories in Vietnam, China and Indonesia are misleading. In a bid to head off pending litigation, Nike argued that the material constituted ‘private speech’ and was therefore protected by the First Amendment of the US constitution.
The US Supreme Court was not convinced. In June 2003 it ruled that the Nike literature constituted ‘commercial speech’. This means that material of this nature is now definitely subject to US legislation dealing with false advertising. Previously, there had been some doubt.
The Supreme Court ruling highlights the fact that PR people have a duty of care to the organisations they represent…
The actual charge against Nike still has to be proved, and may well be unfounded. But the Supreme Court ruling is a landmark decision and may have far-reaching implications for communication and marketing types not only in the US, but elsewhere. As such, it deserves our full attention. It highlights the fact that we have a duty of care to the organisations we represent, and to their shareholders, and it gives us even more reason to insist that all forms of corporate communication remain open, honest and above board. So next time you are under pressure to put out something that is either misleading or downright dishonest, remember that you now have a Supreme Court ruling on your side and that telling porkies could start hurting the bottom line.