Chinese social-media users burn their Nikes after the company says it’s ‘concerned’ about forced labor of Uyghurs in Xinjiang

A video from a Weibo user showing a pair of Nike shoes burning. Weibo
Chinese Weibo Users Burn Nikes After Brand Critiques Uyghur Conditions (

  • Chinese Weibo users are burning Nike shoes over a row between the brand and Chinese authorities.
  • Nike posted a statement highlighting reports of forced labor of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
  • A major Chinese star has also severed ties with Nike, to mass online approval.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Chinese fans are up in arms after Nike said it would not use cotton from China’s disputed Xinjiang region, and some are burning their prized kicks.

The sports company faced a massive backlash and boycott on the Chinese social-media platform Weibo after it released a statement highlighting reports of forced labor of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Nike’s statement on Xinjiang was not dated, but it was published online after the European Union, the US, Britain, and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials this week over human-rights violations in Xinjiang. In response, China retaliated by sanctioning European institutions and lawmakers.

“We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” the statement said. “Nike does not source products from the XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region.”

Nike also said that the company had been conducting “ongoing diligence” with its Chinese suppliers to “identify and assess potential forced labor risks related to the employment of Uyghurs, or other ethnic minorities from XUAR, in other parts of China.”

The Uyghur population, a Muslim ethnic minority, has been targeted by Chinese authorities for years. More than 1 million Uyghurs have been held in hundreds of prison camps since 2016, and the US has accused China of genocide.

The social-media storm over Nike’s comments erupted Thursday when screenshots and translations of the statement circulated on Weibo, with over 1 million conversation threads on the brand popping up in a matter of six hours.

“The statement from Nike is f—ing disgusting. It makes me want to f—ing vomit. Nike has the gall to demand that its collaborators can’t use Xinjiang cotton. F— off out of China,” said one Beijing user with the Weibo ID Langli Chitiao.

People began posting videos of themselves burning Nike Air Jordans and Air Force 1s, with some of these videos being reposted more than 100,000 times.

“I burned all my Nikes. This is a matter of national pride. We will not be humiliated,” a user with the ID Xuanxuan Mingying said.

Big brands face boycott after Xinjiang cotton stand

The sneaker-burning and anti-Nike vitriol is a sudden 180-degree shift, as the brand has long had a cult following in China — with bidding wars and a healthy black market for limited-edition sneakers operating on its social platforms.

But Nike is not the only brand drawing ire from Chinese social-media users. The New York Times reported that the products of the Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M were being yanked off major Chinese online shopping sites as part of a mass boycott.

Human-rights groups have for several years accused major retailers of using forced labor, and recently several brands have publicly committed to disassociating from the practice.

Statements from brands including Adidas, Gap, Fila, New Balance, Zara, and Under Armour saying they will not use Xinjiang cotton have been added to a Weibo list of “brands to blacklist” that grows longer by the hour.

In contrast, the Japanese retailer Muji announced it would continue to use Xinjiang cotton. The decision became a top-trending topic on Weibo, with the trending subject “the survival instinct of Muji.”

A Chinese megastar severs ties with Nike

—Chen Yu (@ChenYu122020) March 23, 2020

The Chinese actor Wang Yibo terminated his contract as a representative for Nike after the company’s Xinjiang statement, his agency said in a statement on Weibo on Thursday.

Wang Yibo
The Chinese megastar Wang Yibo severed ties with Nike over its Xinjiang statement. 

“From this day, our artist, Wang Yibo, will be terminating all collaborations with Nike. Our agency and Yibo strongly object to any words or actions that attempt to smear China,” Wang’s agency, Yuehua Entertainment, said in the statement.

“Our country’s dignity cannot be infringed upon, and we will protect our country’s pride and interests.”

It appears that Wang’s hand might have been forced — scores of social-media users sent him death threats on Weibo until his agency made it clear that he no longer had a relationship with the brand and was no longer helping to advertise its Air Max 90 line.

Wang — who is known in China for his love of Nike sneakers and skateboards — was briefly branded a “national traitor” because of his association with the brand. But following Wang’s denouncement of Nike, Weibo users posted dedications and altered images of him in full military regalia, praising what they described as his “bravery.”

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