Token Morality: Nike Removes Redskins Merch, But Their Shoes Are Still Being Made By An Oppressed Chinese Minority

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, many corporations have taken steps to absolve themselves of any connections to seemingly offensive or intolerant ideas.

By Molly Farinholt3 min read
Jeff Bukowski/Shutterstock

Whether their actions originate from a true moral compass or simply a desire to protect themselves from the brutal “cancel culture” is up for debate. 

Nike Stops Selling Washington Redskins Gear

Nike recently made headlines for pulling Washington Redskins gear from its online store. Even sitewide searches for “Redskins” no longer produce any results. This move comes amid renewed calls for the NFL team to change its name which has long been deemed offensive by many different groups. 

In 2013, the National Congress of American Indians published a document demanding an end to the “legacy of racism in sports,” in which they asserted that the name “Redskins” is “contemptuous” and “racist.” Following the unrest after George Floyd’s murder, FedEx (who sponsors the team’s Maryland stadium) formally requested that the team change its name. The process is currently underway, and there’s speculation that the Redskins will soon be renamed the Warriors. 

FedEx, who sponsors the team’s stadium, has formally requested that the team change its name.

In today’s increasingly politically correct climate, we can’t really blame a team for changing its historic name — especially when pressure mounts from sponsors, retailers, and the public. Nike could simply be getting a jump start on the impending change or they could truly be taking a stand for that which they believe is morally improper. 

However, in light of a recent Nike scandal, it’s difficult to not question their motives. If they were truly a company that acted purely out of a commitment to righteousness and ethical behavior, then they would not support forced labor. 

Nike Benefits from an Oppressed Minority Working in Their Chinese Factory

Earlier this year, it was revealed that many of the workers at Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. — which has supplied Nike for over 30 years — are ethnic Uighur Muslims from China’s western Xinjiang region. The Communist Party is moving Uighurs into government-directed labor throughout China in an effort to both control these people and to reach poverty-alleviation goals. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), which conducted the investigation, at least 80,000 Uighurs were displaced from their home province and assigned to factories between 2017 and 2019. 

The Uighur people are not allowed to practice their Muslim religion. 

Inside the Taekwang factory (which looks like a prison with its cameras, watchtowers, and barbed wire fences), the Uighurs are segregated from the other workers. One Han worker stated that Chinese workers eat in one cafeteria, while Xinjiang workers eat in another. The latter are “allowed to wander around near the compound, but have to return to their dorms later.” The Uighur people are not allowed to practice their Muslim religion, and they must attend a training school that teaches patriotism and the Mandarin language. 

Nike, despite their voiced commitment to human rights, is clearly benefiting from this abusive transfer program and forced labor. In March, the company stated that it was reviewing its supply chain in China, but largely denied the allegations of the ASPI. The letter on their website states that Taekwang shared documents that show that all employees had the ability to “end or extend their contracts at any time.” The Chinese government also denied the reports of forced labor. The reliability of such denials is questionable at best. 

Nike seems to be ignoring a very real, and a very large, human rights issue.

There’s no denying that the Uighur Muslims are an oppressed group in China. In the past four years, the Communist Party has spent hundreds of millions to suppress the Uighur birth rate via imprisonment and forced birth control and abortions. Between 2015 and 2018, the birth rate fell 60%. For many years, China has banned Uighur religious practices and held millions in concentration camps focused on “reeducation.” 

The Communist Party has spent hundreds of millions to suppress the Uighur birth rate. 

Thus, Nike’s silence on the matter contradicts its latest anti-racist movement. In May, Nike released a commercial that incited viewers to not turn their backs on racism and to not accept innocent lives being taken. “Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America,” white text on a black background commanded. 

But the company completely ignores the problems of racism, genocide, and oppression in other countries. It seems that, to Nike, black lives in America matter, but Uighur lives in China do not. Nike can’t claim to be a defender of human rights while supporting (and benefitting from) the persecution of minorities in China. 

Closing Thoughts

Releasing a commercial about racism and removing Redskins merchandise from their website are easy actions with little consequence to the giant corporation. Standing up to the Communist regime of China, demanding an end to human rights violations, and entirely reconfiguring their supply chain would be far more difficult actions to take. Such actions would require true commitment to human rights and a backbone. Unfortunately, Nike has yet to prove that they have either.