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August 02, 2021 | In The News

Lawmakers Accuse NBA Players Of ‘Profiting Off Slave Labor’ Through Chinese Sponsorship Deals

Lawmakers are demanding NBA players terminate sponsorship contracts with Chinese companies whose cotton supply chains have been linked to forced labor in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

“Americans can’t and shouldn’t conduct business with companies and players that profit through human slavery,” Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry told Politico. “And that includes NBA players — they can’t sign endorsement deals and benefit off slave labor.”

Perry and other Republican lawmakers including Wisconsin Rep. Tom Tiffany, Texas Rep. Ronny Johnson and Florida Rep. Greg Steube are pressuring the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to place NBA players’ Chinese sponsors on a blacklist prohibiting U.S. citizens from doing business with them, Politico reported.

“If they didn’t know [their corporate sponsor] sourced slave labor cotton from Xinjiang, that’s one thing,” Perry told Politico. “But if they do know … they are complicit with slavery.”

The bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China is also probing commercial relationships between NBA players and Chinese sportswear companies Anta, Li-Ning and Peak over their alleged use of forced labor in cotton supply chains.

Commission co-chairs Democratic Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern sent a letter request to the National Basketball Players Association in June urging the players’ union to “push these companies to end their use of Xinjiang cotton … [or] encourage players to end their endorsement deals with these companies.”

A group of 13 current NBA players have sponsorship deals with Anta and Li-Ning, according to Politico. The list includes Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler, Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson.

Dwayne Wade, retired Miami Heat player and part-owner of the Utah Jazz, signed a lifetime endorsement deal with Li-Ning in 2018, according to Bleacher Report.

Perry told Politico that U.S. consumers should use their purchasing power as a means to persuade NBA players to terminate contracts with the Chinese companies.

“If you learn that NBA players are profiting off slave labor, don’t buy their apparel,” he said. “If their income from these endorsement deals start to dwindle, they’ll get the point.”

Xinjiang is a major hub for cotton production in China, and a number of Western companies are reliant on cotton supply chains sourced in the region. China produces around one-quarter of global cotton supplies, and 84% of cotton produced in the country comes from Xinjiang, the BBC reported.

China in recent years has detained up to 2 million Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in re-education camps, according to Axios. Both the U.S. government and human rights groups have raised concerns about minorities in the Xinjiang region being sent to forced labor camps.

The outgoing Trump administration in January banned imports of cotton produced in Xinjiang in an attempt to eliminate forced labor from domestic supply chains. The Senate passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in June that would further ban imports from Xinjiang, despite pressure from companies such as Apple and Nike.