Why I’m Not Buying Nikes This Week

I’ll get right to the point. I’m not buying a pair of Nikes this week because I don’t need them.

No, I’m not boycotting Nike. Far from it. I think Nike’s recent move to feature Colin Kaepernick in their ads is strategically very clever, and more generally I’m supportive of Kaepernick’s kneeling as a form of protest, and so by extension I’m supportive of Nike’s support of Kaepernick. And no, I don’t think there’s any need to decide between those two analyses: a given business decision can be both strategic and ethical, opportunistic and morally laudable. I think Nike has scored well on both counts, in the present case.

But buying a pair of Nikes I don’t need would be almost as silly as burning a pair. I’ve already got a good pair of athletic shoes for running, and I’ve got a couple of nice pairs of sneakers for walking around town.

And so I think buying a pair of Nikes this week would be foolish. For starters, it would be a foolish waste of money I could spend on something else—like, say, a $175 donation to the ACLU, or the NAACP. And generally, buying Nikes wouldn’t accomplish much. Yes, in principle I’d like to pat the company on the back, but me shelling out for a pair of shoes is hardly going to be noticed by a company with over $30billion in revenue. Nor is anyone going to notice my flashy new Nikes, and nod in appreciation that I’m on the right side of this debate. When so many people sport a particular logo—sporting it for so many different reasons—that logo’s significance as a signal is necessarily close to zero.

Finally, this issue is a good opportunity to talk about what values we think should determine our behaviour in the marketplace. Do we really want politics creeping in? Is that a good thing? Should lefty consumers really stick to buying shoes (or cars, or broccoli) from lefty producers, and should right-wing consumers stick to buying from right-wing companies? Or should we instead stick, generally, to buying good, well-made products that suit our needs? Markets work better when we ignore each other’s political leanings. Voltaire noted it in the 18th century, pointing out how marvellous it was that the Christian, the Jew, and the Muslim could set their religious differences aside in order to engage in trade. And so, as my friend Alexei Marcoux, argued more recently, we should be wary of letting the marketplace become what he calls a ‘market for values.’ “The market for values,” he argues, “undermines and displaces toleration in the most important venue for social cooperation in a commercial society—the market.” The marketplace is a place where we learn to accept differences of opinion; we shouldn’t jump at opportunities to let our differences of opinion interfere we behave in the marketplace.

See also: Ethical Consumerism (Concise Encyclopedia of Business Ethics)

4 comments so far

  1. Robert Czerny on

    I think your position is correct but limited. It would be good to have an analysis of how, in the case of national anthems at the start of events, professional sports introduces patriotism into the athletics-entertainment marketplace. The current bizarre controversy portrays the knee-takers (Colin Kaepernick etc) as disrespectful — even though kneeling is traditionally a sign of respect and obeisance. What the knee-takers have protested is not their flag or anthem but the notion that patriotism requires conformity and forbids criticism. A healthy marketplace protects nonconformity and criticism.

  2. […] Why I’m Not Buying Nikes This Week (by Chris MacDonald, on The Business Ethics […]

  3. tasneemnabil on

    I think the topic is extremely interesting but regardless of Nike’s case, I think that marketplace is not anymore determined by need! It now more about want’s, lifestyles, preferences and don’t forget the focus on self concept for customization. I do believe that we should shed the light more on ethical marketing and shopping but this would open another leading channel to political conflict of interests which funds many big corporations.

  4. Danny on

    “A given business decision can be both strategic and ethical, opportunistic and morally laudable”

    This should be printed out and sent to the CEOs of every major corporation.

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