A US congressional group is urging players in the National Basketball Association to reconsider their ties to Chinese sports companies that use cotton from Xinjiang. The hub of China’s large cotton industry, the region is where western authorities say the Chinese government is pressing large numbers of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities into forced labor—charges China vehemently denies.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China, established in 2000 to monitor human rights in the country, publicly released a letter it sent to the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), the union representing the NBA’s athletes. It cited news reports where Chinese sports companies Anta, Li-Ning, and Peak affirmed their use of cotton from Xinjiang following the backlash in China against western corporations such as H&M and Nike that had made previous statements distancing themselves from Xinjiang cotton.
More than a dozen NBA players have endorsement deals with Chinese sports companies, it said. Anta and Li-Ning in particular have emerged as global giants in clothing and footwear, signing up athletes such as Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors and Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat. More players continue to sign deals with Chinese sports companies, creating “reputational risks” for the NBA and its athletes, according to the letter. “The NBA and NBA players should not even implicitly be endorsing such horrific human rights abuses,” it said.
We have reached out to the NBPA for comment and will update this story with any reply.
Will the NBA’s progressive values extend to Xinjiang?
The letter was signed by Jeffrey Merkley, a Democratic senator from Oregon and chair of the committee, as well as co-chair Representative James McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts who has been one of the leaders behind a bill to ban products made with Uyghur forced labor from entering the US. It suggested the players use their leverage with their Chinese sponsors to push them to end their use of Xinjiang cotton, and urged them to cut ties if they don’t.
The NBA has developed a reputation for being the most progressive league in US sports. Its members have been outspoken about racism and the police killings of Black Americans, among other issues. In 2019, Daryl Morey, then general manager of the Houston Rockets, roused China’s ire after voicing his support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. It left the NBA caught between trying to appease China, where it has a lucrative business, and standing up for its values.
The congressional commission on China appealed to the progressive values espoused by many basketball players in its letter. “NBA players have a track record of using their large public platform to speak out against injustice, and we hope this will include Xinjiang,” it said. “Complicity in forced labor is neither consistent with American values nor with U.S. law.”