Nike ad splits opinion

Sportswear giant Nike sparked a twitter storm in September when their new ad campaign featured Colin Kaepernick, an American football (NFL) player, who protested against racial injustice and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016. 

No club has employed him since then. The ad featured the line “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”.

The ad has gained much traction, both positive and negative, but some workers’ rights activists have criticised Kaepernick over his alignment with Nike; a company widely known for its poor working conditions and low wages in factories.

Rosa Celemente, an activist, told The New York Times that “activists, organizers and leaders sometimes make mistakes, and I think [Kaepernick} made a mistake by aligning himself with a company that exploits workers and breaks unions. It’s not just a capitalist company – it’s a hyper-capitalist company”.

In the 1990s, the harsh reality of Nike’s success was exposed with reports of widespread labour exploitation at its factories. Ever since, Nike has tried to clean up its image. In 2015, its Sustainable Business Report included a Code of Conduct, which has clauses on working hours, child labour and worker discrimination. Nike received an Ethical Consumer middle rating for supply chain management in response to these growing commitments.

However, it continues to deny its garment workers a living wage. A recent report by Clean Clothes Campaign claimed that factory workers today receive even less of Nike profits than they did in the 1990s. The ‘Foul Play’ report claims that “the share of these costs that ends up in a worker’s pocket is now a staggering 30% less than in the early 1990s.”

Others have been strongly supportive of the Nike campaign which came at a time of rising racism in the USA. Ethical Consumer has been asking whether, in these times of increasingly polarised positions, we need big companies to take positive stands on political issues like climate change. Interestingly, despite boycott calls against Nike by far-right commentators, Nike’s sales rose by 31% in the days after the advert was aired.

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