Zero tolerance for hate speech, Nike and Adidas step up

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Nike and Adidas send a clear message to their future collaborators; zero tolerance for hate speech and hateful actions. As companies place more emphasis on doing the right thing by focusing on a business stakeholder approach, they are being called to get up and walk. A stakeholder-focused approach means making decisions based on the many entities vested in the business, such as customers, suppliers, media, communities and employees. The shift from a search for short-term profit to a search for long-term prosperity is growing among fashion brands.

Nike leaves Kyrie

Nike announced it was suspending its relationship with Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving and would not release the Kyrie 8 shoe following Irving’s use of his social media feeds to post a link to a widely known anti-Semitic film. Nike moved quickly to sever ties with Irving and released this statement; “At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn all forms of anti-Semitism.”

Irving’s signing deal is one of Nike’s most lucrative current streaks, behind only LeBron James’ streak of signings in recent years. Irving’s shoes are also among the most worn in the league. The shoe deal began in 2014 and reportedly generated approximately $11 million in revenue per year for Nike. The company’s quick decision to cancel Irving’s deal came on the heels of its main competitor, Adidas, being criticized for taking too long to make the right decision in a similar case.

Adidas too slow to make the call

Adidas took more than two weeks to end its deal with Ye (also known as Kanye West) after his recent anti-Semitic behavior. During Paris Fashion Week, Ye wore a White Lives Matter shirt which is known to be a white supremacist expression. Ye also made anti-Semitic remarks and blamed fentanyl use as the cause of George Floyd’s death. The Adidas-Yeezy deal has been estimated at $2 billion in annual revenue for the company.

Communications and marketing professionals agree that Adidas took far too long to respond to blatant hate speech and behavior. In August, Adidas announced that Kasper Rorsted, CEO of Adidas, would step down effective 2023. The company has had a difficult three years due to the pandemic and geopolitical tensions. The fallout with Ye and the company’s slow response, as perceived by its consumers and industry experts, could add to an already difficult year.

Antisemitic incidents on the rise

In 2011, Christian Dior chief designer John Galliano was fired after videos showed him making anti-Semitic remarks in a Paris cafe. Dior and its parent company, LVMH Moëtt Hennessy, moved quickly and decisively to fire Galliano, who was highly regarded in the world of fashion design. Since then, anti-Semitic incidents have increased dramatically.

Last year, the Anti-Defamation League documented 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment or vandalism targeting Jews in the United States. The number of incidents represents a 34% increase from last year and a record since the group began tracking 43 years ago. When leaders, influencers, and celebrities use language and actions that defame groups of people, it encourages others with similar beliefs to act on that behavior.

Zero tolerance hateful behavior

Hateful speech and actions by people in high positions incite others to act in the same way and make people think that such actions are acceptable in today’s socio-cultural environment. When brands work quickly and quickly to address these types of negative behaviors, it demonstrates that companies are more invested in social responsibility. Making profits is essential for business, but profits should not come at the cost of turning a blind eye to social issues. Zero tolerance for hate speech and behavior should prompt zero tolerance actions from companies.

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