A week after releasing a powerful ad titled “For Once, Don’t Do It” in response to the killing of George Floyd, Nike has expanded its efforts to support diversity, inclusion, equality and equity both within its organization and American society.
In a letter to employees, Nike president and CEO John Donahoe announced a $40 million commitment over the next four years “to support the Black community in the U.S.”
“On behalf of Nike, Jordan and Converse collectively, we will invest in and support organizations focused on social justice, education and addressing racial inequality in America,” he wrote.
Distribution of the funds will be guided by a small task force headed up by Donahoe and Jordan brand president Craig Williams. Donahoe said the initiative came out of a “listening and learning tour” through the company, during which Nike employees demanded more action.
“Nike needs to be better than society as a whole,” he wrote. “Our aspiration is to be a leader. While we have made some progress over the past couple of years, we have a long way to go.”
Nike has a history of confronting issues regarding race in its advertisements, most notably by featuring Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback blackballed from the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem before games to protest police brutality, in its “Dream Crazy” campaign.
But Nike has also been the subject of controversy regarding its treatment of minorities, workers and women. The company have been accused of using sweatshops to manufacture its products, particularly in Indonesia, which drawn widespread criticism and protests since 1991, leading Nike to raise the minimum age for factory workers and enforce stricter monitoring practices. The company has also been hit with multiple racial discrimination lawsuits within the past few years, including a Black employee who reported finding a toy monkey on his desk.
As of 2019, Nike’s Representation in Leadership Report showed the company’s employees were 21.6% Black or African American, and its directors were 4.8% Black and African American.
This is higher than Nike’s primary competitor, Adidas, which reported less than 5% Black representation at its North American headquarters in 2019, with less than 1% of its worldwide vice presidents identifying as Black, according to The New York Times. Adidas is now facing backlash from its own employees, who claim the company does not do enough to create an inclusive environment. Many employees are planning to stage a protest against Adidas’ treatment of Black workers.
The recent Black Lives Matter protests and broader criticisms of diversity hiring practices come as a wake-up call for sports clothing brands that have a large minority consumer base, but whose workforce is not proportionately diverse. As of 2018, 22% of Nike’s customers identified as Black, a stark contrast from the previously mentioned 4.8% Black representation within Nike directors.
Donahoe pledged in his letter to “get [Nike’s] own house in order,” and committed to “coming together to support one another and to take action that improves our own community.”
The task force led by Donahoe and Williams, with input from Nike employees, plans to announce its intentions for the funds soon.
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