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Update: Nike also contributes to the mass slaughter of Kangaroos. According to the campaign Kangaroos Are Not Shoes, “More than two million kangaroos are shot each year in Australia. It’s the largest land-based commercial wildlife slaughter in the world.” Please join the campaign and sign this petition to get rid of this cruel practice.

Nike is the biggest supplier of athletic shoes worldwide. They don’t just design and make every sneaker with the instantly recognizable ‘swoosh’ on them; they also own Vans and Converse. So, even if you’ve consciously avoided buying from the brand, chances are you might have something of theirs tucked inside your wardrobe. 

Over a decade ago, Nike was synonymous with sweatshops and bad labor conditions. In recent years, that reputation has quietly faded into the background. Does that mean they are doing better? Or did they just get better at PR? 

Their Environmental Impact

By now, most people know how damaging the fashion industry is to the environment. Most Nike products are either made out of cotton or polyester, both of which can be very polluting. 

Starting with cotton, the Ethical Consumer found that Nike has not set clear intentions with their approach to the pesticides and herbicides used to grow cotton crops. They have incorporated some organic cotton into their products and also use Better Cotton Initiative cotton here and there. However, not all of their cotton is sustainable, and they haven’t expressed interest in using 100% sustainable cotton

Recycled polyester is made from plastic bottles that are ground up and spun into yarn. You don’t need any virgin plastic to make recycled polyester, although it does sometimes require more chemicals, dye, and water since recycled fiber can be hard to dye. It is a more sustainable option than virgin polyester, although plastic-based fibers are inherently toxic to the environment and marine life. 

Nike proudly states that they use more recycled polyester than any other company in the industry. That’s great, but when you think about how large Nike is, we should expect nothing less of them. 

One sustainability assessment on Nike published around a decade ago found that despite the brand making public plans to change and be better for the planet, “there…appears to be fewer tangible results than plans made.”

Good On You’s 2020 assessment of the brand concluded similarly, saying, “it’s clear that the company is not doing as much as it should and needs to make serious changes in most areas.” This demonstrates that Nike has consistently made little effort to take the necessary steps to actually become a cleaner company. 

The People Making the Goods 

Nike has been using sweatshops since the 1970s. In recent years, they’ve been applauded for completely transforming their production, but most of this progress appears to be superficial. 

In 2017, Nike severed its ties with the Worker Rights Consortium, which let labor rights experts monitor their factories. This was a huge disservice to the countless laborers who spent their days hunched over making their 200-dollar shoes. They improved their transparency by 2020, but their commitment to ethical labor practices is inconsistent at best. 

The most recent scandal Nike’s been involved in takes place in the Xinjiang region of China. According to the Washington Post, Nike, along with a plethora of other well-known brands, have been making their products in a factory that used Uighurs “consistent with the International Labour Organization’s definition of forced labor.” 

Laborers were also forced to undergo ideological training. This information became public in early 2020. 

Upon the news of how Uighurs were being treated, Nike came out and said they were reviewing their supply chains. 

The Protests and Politics 

Nike is not new to a few protests. In 2017, they saw a new wave of protests organized by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). In 1998, Nike co-founder Phil Knight cleaned up their image and committed to more ethical practices, but that commitment was short-lived. 

USAS spoke up against the mistreatment of workers in several of their sweatshops, including one in Vietnam where workers “suffered wage theft and verbal abuse, and labored for hours in temperatures well over the legal limit of 90 degrees, to the point that they would collapse at their sewing machines.

The USAS protest spread past country borders, and workers in countries being taken advantage of by Nike spoke out and demanded the company be held responsible for their actions. 

Nike also has a bad track record for not hiring minority workers. In July 2020, about 30 demonstrators lined up outside the Nike headquarters near Beaverton, Oregon, to protest. Oregon Lives says that despite Black athletes and Black culture helping make Nike their money, people of color are not welcomed into their corporate culture behind closed doors. 

Animal rights

While Nike does have a few shoes made from vegan leather, they still use leather, down, and wool in some of their products. They do not provide information about where these materials are sourced. Their dedication to animal welfare is far from impressive, and they need to make an effort to eliminate animal skins, plumes, and furs from their products. 

stop f*ucking the planet tee
Stop F*ucking with the Planet T-Shirt by Tiny Rescue: Climate Collection

Is Nike Actually Getting Better? 

The introduction of recycled cotton and polyester into some of its collections is a start. However, Nike still has a lot to do regarding ethical labor practices and using ethical and sustainable materials. 

If anyone has the funds and resources to make the right environmental choices, it’s Nike. They’ve clearly got the talk down, now it’s time to walk.

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