Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter is inviting Nike co-founder and owner Phil Knight and basketball icons LeBron James and Michael Jordan on a trip to China so the four can inspect the footwear titan’s supply chain together.
Kanter, who has long been vocal in his criticism of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, turned his focus to China this past week—first for its policies on Tibet, and then for its treatment of Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic minority that lives predominantly in the embattled Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
On Monday, he widened that criticism to include Nike, which he said makes its shoes using “slave labor.” When he took to the hardwood that same day, he did so in a pair of sneakers designed by Badiucao, a Shanghai-born dissident who now lives in Australia. Across the shoes’ uppers, the artist had written “hypocrite Nike,” “made with slave labor,” “modern day slavery” and “no more excuses.”
“Nike likes to say ‘Just do it,’” Kanter said in a video posted Monday. “Well, what are you doing about the slave labor that makes your shoes—that slave labor that makes you rich?”
In his more than three-minute video, Kanter acknowledged the positive impact Nike has made in the United States by standing with the Black Lives Matter movement, Stop Asian Hate and the Latino and LGBTQ communities.
“Nike remains vocal about injustice here in America, but when it comes to China, Nike remains silent. You do not address police brutality in China, you do not speak about discrimination against the LGBTQ community, you do not say a word about the oppression of minorities in China,” the NBA player said. “You are scared to speak up.”
Nike didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
In March last year, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) released a report that claimed 83 companies benefitted from the use of Uyghur labor. One case study specifically linked Nike to a factory that allegedly employed 600 ethnic minority workers from Xinjiang.
However, Nike has asserted it does not use forced labor. The company’s statement on Xinjiang specifically addresses the ASPI report and describes claims that it has relationships with facilities in the XUAR as “inaccurately reported.” Nike has said it does not source products from the region and that it has confirmed with its contract suppliers that they do not use textiles or spun yarn from the region. It is an affiliate of the Fair Labor Association, which this past December prohibited the sourcing and production of goods, whether directly or indirectly, from Xinjiang.
Chinese authorities are widely believed to be holding more than a million ethnic minorities in detention camps or coercive employment schemes in Xinjiang. Both the Trump and Biden administrations characterized China’s actions in the region as “genocide.”
In March, the United States and its Western allies sanctioned several Chinese officials for their purported roles in the alleged forced labor schemes. Shortly after, companies like Nike, H&M and Adidas became the center of a massive consumer boycott targeting businesses that had voiced concern—typically months earlier—about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang.
Though reports indicated Nike’s sales at physical stores and on e-commerce platforms like Alibaba-owned Tmall suffered amid the boycott, the company has yet to see revenue in the region drop year-over-year. In the three months ended May 31, it saw sales grow 9 percent in Greater China on a currency-neutral basis. During the period ended Aug. 31, the Oregon-based company registered a 1 percent increase in sales.