Before this past year, when I used to buy clothing or shoes, I only thought about what was in front of me—the colors, style and price. But, when I began to learn about the story behind my shoes, I realized I was missing the most important factors. The Companies’ environmental impact and worker exploitation were hidden behind carefully marketed advertisements. I decided to make a conscious effort to avoid products that have such adverse effects on the environment, people and animals affected.
When I learned that people were praising the notoriously exploitive company Nike for their social responsibility, I was aggravated. I was upset to find my belief in ethical and sustainable companies aligning me with blatant racists burning their Nike products in the name of “patriotism.” However, if they truly cared for the troops, they could have easily donated those products to the veterans that they claimed to love.
Of course, the main subject of Nike’s 30th “Just Do It” campaign, Colin Kaepernick, deserves to get financially compensated for his courageous work. Kaepernick has not only taken a stance against systemic racism and police brutality in the United States through his national anthem protests, but also donated $1 million to various organizations and founded a campaign to encourage self-empowerment, higher education and proper interactions with law enforcement. Although Nike has donated money to his campaign, praising Nike for this campaign as anything other than good business would be naive.
As much as I believe people’s intentions to be positive, Nike is a for-profit company whose goal above all is to make money. This advertisement is not a sacrifice out of the goodness of Nike’s heart, but was perfectly calculated. This careful marketing has paid off for them. Since the release of the Kaepernick campaign, Nike has gotten more than its fair share of rewards for being “socially responsible” with a 5% or $6 billion increase in its market value.
The advertisement was hailed as a controversial yet riotous choice by many because of its support of a divisive activist. However, the element of the ad that should have been controversial was not its content nor its endorsement of Kaepernick, but its practices.
There are extensive reports on Nike’s use of sexual abuse, physical abuse, child labor, verbal abuse, below minimum wage salaries and grueling quota system in sweatshops.
The Boycott Nike campaign dates back decades before this campaign. Instead of addressing the actual criticism of the conditions in the factories, the company expanded their Public Relations department. This recent campaign is using politics as a selling point to distract the public from the actual politics and practices of Nike.
Beyond the conditions of Nike’s production, their political affiliations are still not as left-leaning as the left has praised. Nike has donated more than three times as much money to Republicans as it has to Democrats.
Although Nike seems to be supporting Kaepernick’s ideals and lawsuit against the National Football League, Nike is actively supplying uniforms and cleats to 32 teams in the NFL. This demonstrates that Nike only takes a political stance when it is convenient and helpful to its own financial profits.
When I see Nike advertisements, I see a clear diversion from addressing the true practices of the company that might narrow the company’s margins. Instead of “Just Doing It,” Nike is avoiding confronting the real necessity: paying their workers a living wage. The conditions and wages have been exacerbated so far that the workers unions in Southeast Asia have begun to support a boycott of Nike.
Nike can only deflect becoming a truly socially responsible company for so long if we make an effort and urge our sports teams to refuse and boycott products that support the exploitation of so many people around the world. So, when you pick up a pair of shoes from Nike, remember not what they want you to see—the perfectly marketed and calculated campaigns—but what those pictures are covering up and avoiding: the grueling working conditions and the other egregious casualties of that product.