by Thomas Catenacci
Several top Nike executives funneled more than $60,000 to the re-election campaign of Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden over the course of just 16 days in September.
On Wednesday evening, Wyden blocked the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act which the House passed unanimously Tuesday and the Senate was expected to overwhelmingly approve. President Joe Biden vowed to sign the bill once passed by both chambers and work with Congress to “ensure global supply chains are free of forced labor,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Nike, a major benefactor of Wyden, was one of several corporations to lobby against the bill, The New York Times previously reported. A March 2020 report from the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) concluded that the Oregon-based athletic apparel giant was one of several corporations suspected to either directly employ forced labor or source materials from suppliers using forced labor in Xinjiang.
Between Sept. 15-30, 20 Nike executives including CEO John Donahoe and Executive Chairman Mark Parker each made two $2,900 contributions to Wyden, according to federal elections campaign data. Scott Uzzell, the CEO of Nike subsidiary Converse, made a single contribution of $2,900.
Altogether, the executives gave $60,900 to Wyden’s campaign in the span of about two weeks. Wyden is running for re-election in November 2022.
“Nike is committed to ethical and responsible manufacturing and we uphold international labor standards,” Nike said in a statement last year following the NYT report. “We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).”
“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,” it continued.
The company also denied ever lobbying against the forced labor legislation that Wyden blocked.
Senate lobbying disclosures released over the last 12 months showed that Nike has engaged in efforts related to “international trade, global sourcing and labor,” specifically naming the forced labor bill, but don’t detail the company’s exact actions. Nike has spent more than $1.2 million on lobbying in the Senate, according to the filings.
The forced labor bill would require companies that import products from factories in the Xinjiang province of China to provide “clear and convincing evidence” to U.S. customs authorities that the products had no ties to forced labor.
Wyden explained Wednesday that he would object to the legislation until Congress approved an extension of the child tax credit, a social spending program which no Senate Republican supports. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has also pushed back on the program’s inclusion in Biden’s budget bill making its way through Congress.
Senator Rubio spoke again on the Senate Floor after Democrats object to passage of his Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. pic.twitter.com/dFRjyS73lA
— Senator Rubio Press (@SenRubioPress) December 15, 2021
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio — a sponsor of the bill and member of the CECC and Foreign Relations Committee — slammed Wyden’s actions, saying he was preventing passage of a popular law that could be signed into law this week for the sake of a contentious program. Even if the Senate were to pass a child tax credit extension, Rubio noted, the House would vote on it in January at the earliest.
Throughout Wyden’s Senate career, Nike has been his top contributor, donating an estimated $188,119 to his campaigns since 1989, according to OpenSecrets. More than $151,000 has come from individuals while the remainder was contributed through political action committees.
Nike executives previously gave large sums of cash to Wyden’s campaign. In December 2015, amid another Wyden re-election campaign, Parker, the company’s CEO at the time, and 11 other Nike executives gave contributions totaling $39,000 to the Oregon Democrat.
Meanwhile, nine Nike employees donated a total of $3,062 to Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, the other senator from Oregon, during his re-election campaign in 2019-2020, election data showed. None of the employees were executives.
Merkley, another Foreign Relations Committee and CECC member, joined Rubio in sponsoring the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.
Wyden’s office and Nike didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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Thomas Catenacci is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.