Endorsing forced labor camps and organ harvesting?
If you follow the news at all you are aware that recently Nike announced the release of a line of sneakers with a Revolutionary War era American flag, known commonly as the “Betsy Ross” flag on them, and, that Nike then almost immediately announced that the release would not take place. According to multiple press reports, complaints by Nike spokesman Colin Kaepernick about the racist nature of the American flag depicted on the sneakers prompted the abrupt change of direction. Kaepernick, it appears, history buff that he is, was offended by Mrs. Ross’ handiwork, although what role Betsy, a Philadelphia Quaker trained as an upholsterer had in the enslavement of African-Americans remains unclear.
Let me be up front. I think Colin Kaepernick’s ignorance of history is likely only exceeded by his hypocrisy. His mother is white. He was raised by white parents. He made more money playing football, money paid overwhelmingly by white fans of the game, than the average American will ever see in his lifetime. He has made a cause celebre of the “murder” of black men by police officers and yet managed to say nothing of substance about the mass murder of young black men on the streets of America’s cities by other black men.
I would have a lot more sympathy for him had he spent a fraction of the time he spent grandstanding and “taking a knee” on television speaking with young black men in Baltimore or Chicago and urging them to put down their guns and walk away from violence.
That said, however, the real villain in this story is not Kaepernick, as deluded as he is. The real villain here is Nike.
Nike cuts partnership with “pro-democracy” company Undercover
Almost unnoticed in all the discussion about the Betsy Ross sneakers was another action taken by Nike – on this occasion in China. This time Nike announced it was pulling a whole line of products produced in partnership with a Japanese streetwear company called Undercover. No, Undercover did not suddenly put “racist” Betsy Ross flags on its shoes. The founder of the company, Jun Takahashi, did do something even more horrible, however.
Takahashi spoke out on behalf of pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. And, Nike, terrified of angering the Chinese government and suffering consequences in the Chinese market, cut Takahashi and his company away in a heartbeat.
China’s organ transplant tourism industry
Only weeks before this dustup an independent international panel issued a scathing report on decades of forced organ harvesting by the Chinese government. According to the report the Communist Chinese regime systematically harvests organs from executed dissidents and then sells these organs to Chinese citizens or foreign “transplant tourists.” The result has been a boom in the organ transplant business.
Chinese hospitals advertise that they can deliver hearts, livers, kidneys and corneas of matching blood type and size in two weeks. The surgeries are scheduled in advance, suggesting strongly that the hospitals know exactly when the “donors” are going to die. Chinese hospitals now perform some 60,000 to 90,000 transplant surgeries each year.
The “laogai” – China’s version of the Soviet Union’s gulag
Reprehensible as this practice is, it occurs within the broader context of a much bigger, perhaps even more evil system, the laogai. The laogai is to Communist China what the gulag was to the Soviet Union. It is a vast system of forced labor camps, which are found throughout the country. Estimates are that there are over one thousand camps in the laogai system and untold millions of Chinese, dissidents, Muslims, Christians, members of other religious minorities, etc. are languishing in them.
It is also regularly reported that goods bound for the United States and other Western nations are being manufactured using slave labor in these camps, a fact made all that more harsh and immediate by the discovery of a note written by a Chinese slave laborer stuffed into a purse bought at Walmart in 2017.
The note, written in Mandarin Chinese, said:
Inmates in China’s Yingshan Prison work 14 hours a day and are not allowed to rest at noon. We have to work overtime until midnight. People are beaten for not finishing their work. There’s no salt and oil in our meals. The boss pays 2,000 yuan every month for the prison to offer better food, but the food is all consumed by the prison guards. Sick inmates have to pay for their own pills. Prisons in China cannot be compared to prisons in the United States. Horse, cow, goat, pig, dog.
A follow-up investigation by Vox magazine confirmed the existence of the prison mentioned in the note and the fact that slave labor in the prison was used by multiple manufacturers to produce items for export to the West. The investigation also found that the practice of using slave labor in this fashion was routine and was openly advertised inside China.
Non-slave labor conditions in China are also abhorrent
Conditions for non-slave labor in China are routinely abhorrent. Workers at Foxconn began to kill themselves in such numbers in 2010 that the company resorted to stringing nets across the spaces between dormitory buildings to prevent workers from throwing themselves to their deaths. Wages are low. Hours are horrendously long. Workers live crammed into tiny bunk rooms. Workplace safety is non-existent. More here.
None of this matters to Nike. The company makes about one-quarter of the products it sells on Chinese soil. More importantly, perhaps, China is a growth market for the purchase of Nike products. “We see China continues to be a critical part of our source base,” CEO Mark Parker said recently, adding that Nike’s strategy to be a “brand of China, for China” also will serve it well. “We’re confident that we’ll continue to grow our business in China for decades to come.”
In fact, China is Nike’s fastest growing market, with the Greater China region totaling nearly 17% of the $37 billion of Nike brand sales through May 31, 2019. At the rate sales are growing the Chinese market is now poised to outstrip both the European and the North American markets for Nike products.
Nike makes money in China, lots of money. It expects to make a whole lot more. That is not just the important thing. That is the only thing.
Nike’s compassion? Just posturing….
When it suits Nike to posture in the press by aligning itself with Kaepernick and, claiming to stand for the underdog, it does so. That stance has, however, exactly nothing to do with a social conscience or morality. It has to do with a calculus that amongst a certain demographic, those likely to buy Nike’s shoes, this posturing will resonate and result in increased sales.
When a Japanese shoe designer dares to stand up publicly on behalf of pro-democracy protestors and suggest that they deserve our support against a brutal Communist regime that harvests human organs and enslaves millions, the exact same calculus leads Nike to cut ties, pull product lines and kowtow to Beijing. Justice is irrelevant. Freedom is irrelevant. The truth is irrelevant.
In Nike’s world only one thing matters – the almighty dollar. Maybe that’s what they should put on their shoes.