Nike’s Sweatshops in China

Factory workers stitching garments

There have been whispers for a long time about Nike using sweatshop workers. But it’s hard to know if those theories are just pop culture fiction or real evidence of wrongdoing. We took it upon ourselves to find the truth- and here it is:

Where did the Sweatshop Allegations Come From?

In 2020, an Australian Think Tank, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, released a groundbreaking report that claimed a group of well-known apparel companies were using slave labor in Chinese sweatshops.

I’ve talked about the situation with Ughyur Muslims in China in other blog posts, like Shein’s Ethical Overview. The gist of it is that China is forcing ethnic minorities like them to take part in “re-education” (concentration) camps, where they are shipped out to work at factories for companies like Nike.

Specifically, the report detailed that in January 2020, around 600 ethnic minority workers from Xinjiang were employed at Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd, whose main customer was none other than Nike.

Taekwang’s factories were one of Nike’s largest manufacturers, and they produced more than 7 million shoes every year.

Ughyurs there were forcefully sent by the Chinese government, not allowed to go home for the holidays, and unable to practice their religion. They were also under constant surveillance from watchtowers and facial recognition cameras, and the factories were lined with razor and barbed wire.

What did Nike Have to Say About The Chinese Sweatshop Accusations?

Nike did an internal investigation and released this statement:

Related to the Taekwang Group, when reports of the situation in XUAR began to surface in 2019 Taekwang stopped hiring new employees from the XUAR to its Qingdao facility and an independent third-party audit confirmed there are no longer any employees from XUAR at the facility. Our ongoing diligence has not found evidence of employment of Uyghurs, or other ethnic minorities from the XUAR, elsewhere in our supply chain in China.

– Nike XUAR Statement

In other words, they completely denied the report. BUT if you pay attention to their carefully chosen language, Nike says there were no XUAR employees after 2019. Which means that Nike confirmed that before 2019, it was taking advantage of labor from Ughyur Muslims in what are essentially Chinese sweatshops.

Does Nike Still Use Labor From Chinese Sweatshops?

The statement above Nike released seems to hint that while it admits to once using that type of labor- they don’t anymore.

BUT-

Here we go again. Sigh.

U.S. Congress members in the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party sent a letter to Nike’s CEO in May 2023, which accused Nike of lying in that statement. They wrote that they had heard expert testimony revealing that Nike still sources materials like cotton, polyester, and leather from Ughyur Muslims.

They asked some very reasonable questions to Nike, like:

  1. Do any garments imported contain inputs from Ughyur forced labor?
  2. How do you verify that no forced labor is used anymore? Are all your suppliers contractually obligated to avoid forced labor?
  3. Why do you still work with factories that you have admitted have a track record of slave labor?

Nike provided no response.

Our take

It seems highly, highly likely that materials used in Nike’s products are made in Chinese sweatshops by Ughyur Muslims. This is unacceptable. We would completely avoid purchasing Nike products.

One response to “Nike’s Sweatshops in China”

  1. […] For example, Nike’s been recently exposed for using forced labor from Chinese concentration camps to produce their shoes. […]

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