Nike Chooses China Profits Over Uyghur Slaves

June 29, 2021 Updated: July 7, 2021


Nike’s president and CEO, John J. Donahoe, recently declared his company’s unequivocal fealty to Chinese tyranny. During the company’s “Fourth Quarter Earnings Call” to discuss its profit projections, Donahoe bragged that Nike “is a brand of China and for China.”

Ponder the blatant hypocrisy of that disgraceful statement. In America, Nike prides itself on being “woke,” and the company regularly backs all the politically correct leftwing causes.

A few years ago, Nike threw a corporate fit when Indiana passed a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), speciously arguing that the law guaranteeing freedom of religion encouraged discrimination against sexual minorities.

In another of America’s cultural flashpoints, Nike enthusiastically supported former football quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s “kneeling” protests during the playing of the National Anthem at sporting events. It then put its money where its corporate mouth was by paying Kaepernick hugely—as a certain former president might say—to endorse its brand.

Never mind that a Chinese version of Kaepernick doing the very same thing would be arrested and disappeared—or worse, subjected to live organ harvesting, as are Falun Gong prisoners of conscience. The worst Kaepernick had to fear from the government in the land of the free was angry criticism from then-President Donald Trump.

Wait, Wesley. Maybe Donahoe was quoted out of context.

Nope. Here is his venal, profit-uber-alles statement, edited just a bit for clarity: “We’ve been in China for over 40 years, invested significant time and energy in China in the early days, and today we’re the largest sports brand there—and we’re a brand of China and for China. And the biggest asset, we have in China is the consumer equity. I saw that in my first week there, can’t wait to get back there, and it’s strong. And that’s brought to life on streets all over China through the over 7,000 monobrand stores we have in China. So, we have a strong consumer franchise in China, and they feel very connected to our brand. And so we’re going to … continue our long-term investment in China.”

China is a huge market. No extent of tyrannical policies will keep Nike from doing business there, even though in so doing, Nike materially contributes to China thriving economically. That makes the company complicit in the acute threat China now poses to world peace and security.

In the context of Nike’s supposed support for human rights, it’s important to emphasize that the Chinese Communist Party forces ethnic minorities into slave labor, including, in a bitter irony—considering the company’s embrace of Kaepernick’s condemnation of America as systematically racist—forcing Muslim Uyghurs to pick cotton in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.

Not to worry, Nike tut-tutted in an official statement: “Nike is committed to ethical and responsible manufacturing and we uphold international labor standards. We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Nike does not source products from the XUAR, and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region.”

Oooh! Nike is “concerned”? What mush!

Let’s compare that statement’s passivity with Nike’s expressed umbrage at Indiana’s passage of the RFRA: “NIKE has led efforts alongside other businesses to defeat discriminatory laws in Oregon and opposes the new law in Indiana, which is bad for our employees, bad for our consumers, bad for business, and bad for society as a whole.”

Do you see the difference in message and tone? There wasn’t a word in Nike’s statement about China’s policy of enslaving Uyghurs as being “bad” for the slaves, consumers, business, or Chinese society as a whole.

Even if the company doesn’t buy cotton from the XUAR, so what? Cotton is fungible. Any Chinese cotton used by Nike in its products could have been picked by slaves in the province, and even if it wasn’t, that just makes more slave-picked cotton available for other companies to purchase—and at a lower price, given the law of supply and demand.

Their statement regarding the XUAR is an admission that Nike’s managers know forced labor and slavery exist in China and that they don’t care. There’s gold to be made.

“Given our history of operating in China and our connections in relationship with consumers that over the long-term, we’ll be able to deliver low to mid-teens growth,” Donahoe stated in the Earnings Call.

What is Uyghur misery compared to the billions in profits that growth figure represents?

Perhaps even worse, Nike’s defense may be false. According to a report released last year by the widely respected Australian Strategic Policy Institute, slavery in China isn’t just about picking cotton.

“The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labor, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing, and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony, and Volkswagen,” the report reads.

The company’s weakly stated opposition to slavery rings even more hollow considering that, according to The New York Times, the company lobbied actively against the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. The company attempted “to water down some of its provisions, arguing that while they strongly condemn forced labor and current atrocities in Xinjiang, the act’s ambitious requirements could wreak havoc on supply chains that are deeply embedded in China.” In other words, talk is cheap.

Happily, despite Nike’s best efforts, the statute was signed into law by then-President Trump.

Nike is worse than immoral. It’s amoral. It issues statements righteously decrying supposed splinters in America’s eye because company managers think that will maximize profits among the woke young, while it concomitantly winks at the redwood tree in China’s eye, based on that country’s huge market potential.

If there’s such a thing as ultimate moral accountability, these contemporary robber barons might want to reflect on a crucial question first voiced some 2000 years ago: “What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his own soul?”

Wesley J. Smith is chairman of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Wesley J. Smith
Wesley J. Smith
Award-winning author Wesley J. Smith is chairman of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant to the Patients Rights Council. His latest book is “Culture of Death: The Age of ‘Do Harm’ Medicine.”