NBA responds to Congressional letter, condemns use of forced labor in China and elsewhere

Kyrie Irving, seen here in Shanghai in September, signed a deal with ANTA earlier this year that made him the company’s chief creative officer.

Kyrie Irving, seen here in Shanghai in September, signed a deal with ANTA earlier this year that made him the company’s chief creative officer. (Fred Lee/Getty Images) (Fred Lee via Getty Images)

The NBA responded to a U.S. Congressional committee via a letter Tuesday about concerns over the use of forced labor in China when it comes to league apparel, according to ESPN’s Mark Fainaru-Wada.

The NBA told the committee that it prohibits the use of forced labor when it comes to the making of official league apparel, that it follows U.S. guidelines regarding doing business in China and that it “condemns human rights violations anywhere.”

The response came after the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a bipartisan committee, sent both NBA commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association president C.J. McCollum letters earlier this fall, one of which specifically called out Dallas Mavericks guard and new ANTA executive Kyrie Irving.

The letter sent to Silver warned that ANTA, a Chinese apparel giant worth more than $30 billion, and other Chinese apparel firms “publicly embrace the use of supply chains linked to forced labor that helps fund the genocide committed in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” The letter that was sent to the NBPA specifically mentioned Irving’s deal with ANTA.

“While the genocide continues, ANTA … [will] likely continue to profit from the systematic use of forced labor in the XUAR,” the letter to the NBPA read.

ANTA reportedly sources its cotton from the region, despite a U.S. ban on cotton from there. Many other companies, including Nike, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, have stopped using cotton from that region. ANTA has faced this criticism, including during the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The company was the official apparel provider for the games, and the IOC had to make sure the uniforms did not contain any cotton after backlash.

Last year, the United Nations human rights office accused China of human rights violations that “may constitute … crimes against humanity” when it comes to the treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang, according to The New York Times. The United States went further and called it a genocide. The Uyghurs are a group of Muslims who make up about half of the Xinjiang region’s estimated population of 25 million. Hundreds of thousands, if not more than one million, Uyghurs and other minorities have been sent to indoctrination camps since at least 2017, according to The Times. China has claimed these camps are “benign vocational training schools,” but horrific allegations have surfaced about the treatment of people there.

According to ESPN, as of last year, 17 active NBA players had shoe deals with various Chinese companies tied to forced labor in Xinjiang. Klay Thompson reportedly has a 10-year, $80 million deal with ANTA, and both Gordon Hayward and Kevon Looney have ANTA shoe deals. Irving, who is now ANTA’s chief creative officer, is the only player in the league who is an executive at the company.

Irving returned to the Mavericks this past offseason on a three-year, $126 million deal. He had a long-running deal with Nike, though that ended after his antisemitism controversy with the Brooklyn Nets. Irving was suspended eight games last season after he repeatedly refused to apologize for promoting an antisemitic film on social media. He also missed more than 50 games during the 2021-22 season while declining to take the COVID-19 vaccine. He was reportedly making at least $11 million annually on his Nike deal.

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