Nike and Adidas Under Congressional Microscope for Reliance on Chinese Slave Labor

'American corporate leaders still don golden blindfolds when operating in China,' says House Select Committee on China chair

Lebron James Nikes and a Chinese concentration camp.
May 4, 2023

Nike and Adidas are at the center of a congressional investigation into American corporations’ reliance on Chinese slave labor, according to documents and sources familiar with the probe.

The House Select Committee on China will investigate the sportswear companies for their use of products produced in China’s labor camps, which exploit around one million Uyghur Muslims in the country’s Xinjiang province. The committee informed Nike in a Tuesday letter that it learned the company was "sourcing garments made not only from cotton from the Uyghur Region," but a host of other materials as well. Adidas received a similar letter, which informed the company it could be violating the law by importing Uyghur-made products.

Nike and Adidas are the first of many firms that will face congressional scrutiny in the coming weeks and months, according to sources close to the committee and several investigatory letters sent on Tuesday as part of the probe. The committee’s goal, sources said, is to pressure these companies into severing their ties with China as part of a broader push to reduce America’s reliance on the CCP.

Lawmakers are asking Nike and Adidas to turn over in-depth information about their supply chains, including whether "any garments imported into the United States … contain inputs sourced from Xinjiang and/or inputs made with forced labor of Uyghurs." Importing such products could violate the U.S. Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a 2021 law that applies sanctions on companies using Chinese slave labor.

Nike and Adidas did not immediately respond to a Washington Free Beacon request for comment on the probe.

The committee also plans to investigate two other companies for similar violations: Temu, a U.S.-based online store owned by a Chinese holding company, and the Singapore-based Shein, a clothing website with a large American user base.

Select Committee chairman Mike Gallagher (R., Wisc.) said he and his colleagues were disturbed by testimony it heard in a March hearing on the Uyghur genocide, which indicated that a slew of American companies are enmeshed in China’s slave labor industry.

"The Committee is deeply troubled by the reports of corporate complicity raised by our witnesses and will be examining their concerns about American companies,"  Gallagher said in a statement provided to the Free Beacon. "Just as in the mid 1940’s, Americans have been slow to believe reports. Many American corporate leaders still don golden blindfolds when operating in China. What else do we possibly need to know?"

The House committee’s work aims to build upon the 2021 Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which received broad bipartisan support, including from the Biden administration.

But large American brands lobbied against these prohibitions, including Nike and Coca-Cola, among others. Multinational corporations like the Campbell Soup Company, Adidas, Intel, Tesla, and Calvin Klein, have also been identified by Congress and advocacy groups as being complicit in China’s use of slave labor.

Other high-risk industries include "the global apparel and textiles sector, the solar sector, car batteries, agriculture, electronics, toys, automotive, [and] numerous others," Adrian Zenz, senior fellow and director of China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, told the House committee in March.

Republicans and Democrats on the House China committee say American businesses and investors have a moral and legal responsibility to end their reliance on Chinese supply channels that exploit Uyghur workers. Experts have echoed their sentiment.

"Though we may never have met someone who is Uyghur or we may never have been to China, each of us owns a t-shirt that might have been made with cotton from Xinjiang, which was likely made by forced labor," Naomi Kikoler, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said in the March hearing.

"The crimes against Uyghurs are woven into the lives of everyday Americans."