According to the New York Times, Nike – along with Apple, Coca-Cola and other large companies – has been lobbying the U.S. Congress to soften some of the provisions of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which is not yet the law of the land but has been passed in near unanimity (406 to 3) by one of America’s two federal legislative chambers, the House of Representatives. The bill stipulates that goods from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region of China (formerly Chinese Turkestan) may not be imported unless U.S. Customs and Border Protection determine that they have not been made by “convict labor, forced labor, or indentured labor under penal sanctions.”
As we reported in March, a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) claims that from 2017 to 2019 the Chinese government forcibly transferred some 80,000 Chinese citizens – mostly Uyghurs but also Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities – from Xinjiang to other parts of China and set them to work in factories that feed the supply chains of at least 83 major international brands, among them Adidas, Fila, Lacoste, Nike, The North Face, Puma, Uniqlo and Patagonia.
The Times quotes Nike’s director of global communications, Greg Rossiter, as saying that the company “did not lobby against” the bill “but instead had ‘constructive discussions’ with congressional staff aides aimed at eliminating forced labor and protecting human rights.” The concern, as the Times notes, is that the act “could wreak havoc on supply chains that are deeply embedded in China.” Nike also cited its statement from March, which denied that it had was farming out manufacturing to Xinjiang or that its suppliers were procuring textiles or yarn from there.
ASPI had singled out a factory in Qingdao, which Nike says stopped using workers from Xinjiang in 2019, as confirmed by an independent audit. According to ASPI, however, the factory still employed about 800 Uighurs in late 2019 and was producing in excess of seven million pairs of Nike shoes per year.
In 2020 Nike has spent about $1.5 million on lobbying efforts to address a variety of other issues, from taxation to environmental matters. According to Rossiter, the lobbying firms in question were on a retainer before the bill was proposed in Congress.