Tim Newman, Campaigns Assistant, International Labor Rights Forum
As we reported back in November, the National Football League (NFL) has teamed up with Bridgestone/Firestone on a new marketing partnership that includes Bridgestone being the sponsor of this year's Superbowl halftime show. Millions of football fans across the country will be inundated with the Bridgestone logo as the company washes over its abysmal labor rights record (as well as its lawsuit in U.S. courts for using child labor!).
Football fans will also be treated to the vocal styling of Tom Petty, who will be the featured Bridgestone halftime show performer. Does Petty -- who once reminisced about "a time that once existed when money wasn't king" -- have any concerns about performing during what amounts to a commercial for a product made by child labor? Not according to this Rolling Stone interview:
Rolling Stone: This halftime show is sponsored by Bridgestone Tires. Are you softening your stance about working with corporations?
Tom Petty: No. I’m not sponsored by Bridgestone. My deal is with the NFL. The halftime show is always presented by a sponsor. If I play on The Tonight Show, it’s presented by sponsors. Truthfully, every venue in America has some sort of corporate sponsor above the door or on the wall. It’s not a deal that I made, you know? Don’t worry, I haven’t gone corporate.
RS: There’s only a few other holdouts left. Is it getting harder to keep saying no to that corporate money?
TP: No. That’s the way the world is run. They certainly own all the venues. If you play a bar you see signs for Budweiser. There is no way around that. We don’t use tour sponsors or do commercials or anything. I saw someone write in the press that we had in some way sold ourselves out to the Super Bowl because of this deal with Bridgestone Tires. The truth is that if you play on TV there is always a sponsor. There is no way around it. I’ve already passed on so much money I don’t worry about it anymore.
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While Petty tries to distance himself from Bridgestone, the truth is that this abusive company is using the halftime show sponsorship and Petty's notoriety to gain public recognition and greater sales for their product. Bridgestone uses promotional events like these as well as a range of other public relations schemes in an attempt to rebrand Firestone in response to bad press as well as the Stop Firestone Coalition's ongoing organizing and exposure of their abuses in Liberia. Additionally, the NFL itself has partnered with Bridgestone in a multi-year marketing partnership, so they are far from clean.
Meanwhile, Firestone continues to operate a rubber plantation in Liberia where workers are forced to bring their children to work in order to meet production quotas. Workers live in crowded, rundown shacks without running water or electricity while managers live in mansions with golf courses. Workers do not have access to essential safety equipment to protect themselves and the company dumps toxic chemicals in local rivers.
As Petty says in the Rolling Stone interview, when corporations offer him money, "I'm in a good position where I’m not hard up for bread so I can say no, but it does make you think." Well, we hope that Petty will use his time in the spotlight to think about the workers in Liberia who are exploited by Bridgestone/Firestone.