Kaepernick's silence follows the introduction of the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which aimed to block the importation of Xinjiang-made products unless companies could prove forced labor was not used to manufacture them. The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 406 to three and is heading to the Senate.
Despite the bill's noble aims, a number of American firms including Nike have lobbied to dilute some of its strong provisions. A New York Times report said Nike spent $920,000 on in-house lobbying in Congress and other federal agencies in the first three quarters of 2020 for the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act and other matters. The Times report also mentioned the sportswear brand paid outside firms more than $400,000 this year to lobby on the same issues -- including the anti-forced labor bill.
Kaepernick first gained traction in 2016 after he sat while the U.S. national anthem was being played before the start of National Football League (NFL) games. The football player kneeled in subsequent games while The Star-Spangled Banner was playing to protest "police brutality" and "systemic racism." He later became a Nike endorser, with his face appearing in an ad with the caption "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything."
However, no other NFL team has officially signed Kaepernick ever since he left the San Francisco 49ers in March 2016. This led to the quarterback filing a grievance a year later, alleging that NFL management and team owners "have colluded to deprive [Kaepernick] of employment rights in retaliation for [his] … advocacy for racial equality and social justice."
The Chinese Communist Party has engaged in a campaign to suppress and forcibly assimilate Uighurs and other minorities living in Xinjiang, using different ways such as illegal detention and forced labor.
A report by the Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs said: "Uighurs detained in camps and forced to labor in factories must endure dreadful conditions ... They receive little pay, are not allowed to leave and have limited or no communication with family members. When not working, the Uighur workers must learn Mandarin and undergo ideological indoctrination."
In March 2020, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a report on Uighur forced labor and pointed out a number of American companies that had links to Uighur forced labor. The report said that Nike's Chinese partner Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd., located in the eastern province of Shandong, employed around 600 Uighur women from the remote Xinjiang prefectures of Hotan and Kashgar. The Qingdao Taekwang factory in Shandong produces more than seven million pairs for Nike every year. (Related: US corporations lobbying against bill cracking down on products made with Xinjiang forced labor.)
Furthermore, the report described the daily routine of the Uighur workers employed in the factory. They produce Nike shoes during the day, and attend a night school in the evening – where they study Mandarin, sing the Chinese national anthem and receive "vocational training" and patriotic education."
Nike Global Communications Director Greg Rossiter denied that the sportswear brand lobbied against the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act, saying that it instead held "constructive discussions" on how to eliminate forced labor and protect human rights. (Related: Outrage against Nike explodes online: "Slave factories," "evil monster corporation" makes users want to "puke".)
The company also published a statement on its website reaffirming its commitment toward "ethical and responsible manufacturing" and upholding "international labor standards." The statement added: "Nike … [has] been engaging with multi-stakeholder working groups to assess collective solutions … [to] help preserve the integrity of [its] global supply chains."