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

Nike quits 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 antisemitic movie. Nike reacted quickly to sever its ties with Irving and issued this statement; “At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech, and we condemn any form of antisemitism.”

Irving‘s signature deal is one of Nike’s most lucrative current player series, behind only LeBron James’ signature series in recent years. Irving’s shoes are also among the most worn across the league. The shoe deal began in 2014 and reportedly generated about $11 million in revenue annually for Nike. The company’s swift move to cancel the Irving deal came on the heels of its primary 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 over two weeks to terminate its deal with Ye (also known as Kanye West) after his recent antisemitic behaviors. During Paris Fashion Week, Ye wore a White Lives Matter shirt which is known to be a white supremacist phrase. Ye also made antisemitic remarks and blamed fentanyl use as the cause of George Floyd’s death. The Adidas-Yeezy agreement was estimated to be worth $2 billion in revenue per year for the company.

Communications and marketing pros agree that Adidas took far too long to react to the blatant hate speech and behavior. In August, Adidas announced that Kasper Rorsted, CEO of Adidas, would be stepping down effective in 2023. The company has had three challenging 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, may add to an already difficult year.

Antisemitic incidents on the rise

In 2011, Christian Dior’s head designer, John Galliano, was fired after videos showed him making antisemitic remarks in a Paris cafe. Dior and its parent company, LVMH Moëtt Hennessy, acted quickly and decisively to fire Galliano, who had been highly regarded in the fashion design world. Since then, antisemitic incidents have significantly risen.

Last year, the Anti-Defamation League tallied 2,717 assault, harassment or vandalism incidents targeting Jews in the United States. The number of incidents represents a 34% increase from last year and a record since the group started 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 hate behavior

Hate speech and actions by those in prominent positions entice others to act similarly and give people the idea that these actions are acceptable in today’s sociocultural environment. When brands work swiftly and quickly to address these types of negative behaviors, it demonstrates that companies are more invested in social responsibility. Making profits is essential for businesses, but profits should not come at the cost of turning a blind eye to social issues. Zero-tolerance for hate speech and behavior should elicit zero-tolerance actions from companies.

By Amalia