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Nike chief executive John Donahoe defended his company’s presence in China and affirmed its competitive advantage there Thursday.
“Nike is a brand that is of China and for China,” Donahoe said.
Chinese state media circulated a Nike statement in March that expressed concern about reports of forced labor camps in the Xinjiang region. Nike wrote that it does not source supplies or products from that area of the country, but supply chains are so convoluted that critics have argued Nike can’t guarantee that some of it’s cotton doesn’t come from forced labor.
The company has also lobbied to weaken a bill that would ban the import of Chinese goods suspected of being made with forced labor.
Celebrities, such as pop star and then-Nike brand ambassador Wang Yibo, shot down the accusation and threatened to disassociate with the label, claiming it was unfounded smearing.
The Chinese regime has repeatedly rejected accusations of human rights abuses despite clear evidence indicting the state.
Nike’s competitors in China, including Li Ning and Anta Sports, saw surges in their share prices in early April after Nike and other western brands finally addressed and condemned the Chinese government’s human rights violations.
As Nike’s market in China continues to grow, it raises questions about how far the company will go to preserve its financial foothold and opportunities for expansion there. Nike’s much delayed reaction to the mistreatment of unskilled workers, mostly of the Uighur Muslim minority, in China indicates a willingness to capitulate to the regime in order to remain lucrative.
Nike’s latest financial results showed increasing revenues in Greater China. Donahoe seemed to recognize the corporation’s important position in China, owing its strong performance there to many years of Nike investment. “We have been in China for over 40 years,” he said.
After he joined Nike in 2020, Donahoe spent a lot of time scoping out Nike’s operations in China. He said that the company’s “biggest asset is consumer equity [in the brand] . . . it’s real, I saw it in my first week on the job.”
The CEO’s comments come amid accusations that Nike, Disney, and other American companies with large Chinese sectors have been appeasing and ignoring the Chinese regime’s abuses perpetrated against its own people.