A top executive at the world's largest sportswear and footwear company, Nike Inc, on Friday said it had made "mistakes" when dealing with activists critical of its labour compliance policies.

Maria Eitel, vice president for corporate responsibility, told Australian Associated Press Financial News Wire that Nike had worked hard to improve conditions for its workers in less developed countries.

But she acknowledged it had acted too defensively when it was first attacked five years ago over pay and conditions at some of  its factories.

"We made a lot of mistakes and acted in a defensive manner but then the company realised it was a business issue and really critical to our employees, and to our consumers and to ourselves," she said.

"When we were attacked on these issues it was a very big challenge for the company and we had a lot we needed to do. I would say over the past four years if you look at our track record...we are now committed to independent monitoring of our factories, surprise visits, and Nike no longer selects the monitor."