Nike garment workers

Nike, Lululmeon, and Adidas: Quit Feigning the Humanitarian Ethos

It’s getting late. While you should be sleeping, you can’t seem to stop scrolling through social media. A cheeky saying in a bold, yet welcoming script catches your eye. In the end it’s not the words that matter but the sentiment: you matter. You’re important. The words on the screen tell you that you deserve everything good and beautiful in the world — and they’re coming from one of your favorite, feel-good athleisure brands. It’s what you needed to hear, if only for a millisecond: Just do it.


A year into the pandemic, and some retailers are thriving in this uncertain environment, including fashion sportswear heavy-hitters Nike, adidas, and Lululemon — all of which have turned a profit while stories of garment makers around the globe continue to flood in reporting food and housing insecurity. Simply put: the manifestos and humanitarian ethos of these oft-beloved apparel brands remain in stark contrast to the working environment of their garment workers.

The Pretense of Fashion’s Feel Good Mantras

Fashion brands like Lululemon, Nike, and adidas, traditionally aimed towards the upper-middle class, have had to adjust their messaging to reach these discerning buyers who are unsure about their future in a post-COVID world. To entice the market, labels appeal to consumers by talking about authenticity and professing to strive toward a more equitable and real world.

Their slogans, usually something that could be found splashed across pillows or white coffee mugs, are the type of verbal confetti thrown in the air when one wants to purposefully ignore the dialogue around race, gender, sexuality, wage equality, job security, and economic status.

What’s baffling is how some of these brands point to women of color as role models and overlooked members of society, only to ignore the fact that the same body of women make up the majority of their workforce.


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With many brands cancelling orders to meet diminished demand, every label should have a direct relief plan for their garment workers. The lack of an adequate living wage and fundamental rights for garment workers is something that we, as a global community, should be ashamed of.

It’s curious how some clothing brands have an outward-facing ethical and sustainable mission statement, yet do not take action towards the empowerment of the vulnerable women who make their clothes — and who make them a profit.

Let’s dive deeper, beyond the mantras, shall we?


Total 2020 compensation of Calvin McDonald, CEO (base pay plus bonuses): $11.289 million

Average salary (minimum wage) of a garment maker in Bangladesh: $94/month


Total 2020 compensation of Kasper Rorsted, CEO (base pay plus bonuses): $7.237 million

Average salary (minimum wage) of a garment maker in China: $332/month


Total 2020 compensation of John Donahoe, CEO (base pay plus bonuses): $53.5 million

Average salary of a garment maker in Vietnam: $248/month


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It’s important to remember that we are not just the customers of these brands, we are the product. When we buy, say, Lululemon, we buy into the lifestyle.

Knowing that Lululemon’s own garment workers are making wages that would be difficult to survive on makes the brand’s manifesto, which reads in part, “Visualize your eventual demise to affect how you live in this moment,” at best, tone-deaf.

Profiting at Makers’ Expense

For decades, fashion brands have taken a position on social and political causes. Yet, one of the biggest issues facing the clothing industry is the lack of proper working conditions for garment workers. When these workers were let go due to the pandemic, brands have an ethical obligation to make sure they’re treated fairly. Especially when the company has made a profit at their expense. Especially when CEOs are still taking in their normal salaries.



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According to a report by Worker’s Rights Consortium, the average garment workers monthly income dropped to an average of $147 a month; down form around $187 a month, pre-pandemic. The same report found 67 percent of workers indicated that they or members of their household had been forced to skip meals during the pandemic or lower the quality of meals.

But please. Tell us again how “positive stress helps achieve ‘impossible,’” Lululemon.

So Now What?

And so it seems positive affirmations are only for the women who buy the pants, not the women who make them. Here’s something to put on a mug: let’s demand brands treat their employees like they treat their customers.

Maybe then their mission statement would become more than a marketing tool. Maybe then, companies could become examples of how an organization could not only talk, but take action when it comes to empowering women and striving towards a more empowered and ethical view of humanity.

Help us hold Nike, Lululemon, and Adidas accountable. If any of these brands truly believe in being change-makers in the apparel industry, they can start by providing direct relief to their garment makers and signing on to a severance guarantee fund.

Sign the PayUp Fashion Petition

Tag @adidas, @nike, and @lululemon on Instagram with the hashtag #shareyourprofits

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