Missouri Senator Introduces Bill Aimed at Tackling Forced Labor & Calls Out Athletic Brands

Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri has introduced a new bill aimed at tackling forced labor — and he’s specifically calling out Adidas, Nike and Puma.

On Monday, Sen. Hawley introduced The Slave-Free Business Certification Act, a bill he says will hold American corporations accountable for their supply chains. Hawley accuses the athletic giants, along with scores of other global corporations, of being tied to forced labor of Muslim minority groups in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

“Corporate America and the celebrities that hawk their products have been playing this game for a long time — talk up corporate social responsibility and social justice at home while making millions of dollars off the slave labor that assembles their products,” Sen. Hawley said in a statement. “Executives build woke, progressive brands for American consumers, but happily outsource labor to Chinese concentration camps, all just to save a few bucks.”

According to UN estimates, at least 1 million Ugyhurs and other Muslim people are held in detention camps in the XUAR. China has denied mistreatment and says the camps offer vocational training and prevent the rise of terrorism.

Following last month’s passage of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, the United States this month hit senior Chinese officials with sanctions over alleged human rights abuses in the region. A March report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute linked more than 80 global companies to forced labor in Xinjiang, including sportswear behemoths Nike, Puma and Adidas. According to ASPI, its report was based on published supplier lists, media reports, and the factories’ claimed suppliers. However, all three brands separately told FN that they have ensured that neither they nor any of their suppliers use yarn sourced from Xinjiang.

For its part, Nike says that it does not source any products from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and has confirmed with its contractors that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region. The Swoosh says it prohibits “any type of prison, forced, bonded or indentured labor.” Additionally, the Beaverton, Ore.-based company said it is engaging with multi-stakeholder working groups to “assess collective solutions that will help preserve the integrity of our global supply chains, as well as protect the rights of the people impacted.”

A representative from Adidas declined to comment on Hawley’s proposed bill but said that its standards “strictly prohibit all forms of forced and prison labor and are applicable to all companies across our supply chain” and that it has never sourced goods from Xinjiang. Further, the German company said it instructed all suppliers not to source yarn from Xinjiang in spring 2019, and that any use of forced labor by its partners will result in the termination of the partnership.

Meanwhile, Puma says it requires every manufacturer it works with to go through “a compliance audit for social and environmental standards before starting the business relationship.” Manufacturers are re-audited each year and the business relationship will be terminated if a manufacturer fails to promptly remedy any “critical deviations” from Puma’s standards, the company added. The German company said it has conducted a review and determined that there is “no evidence of any form of forced labor” at any of its factories.

If passed, the act would require major companies to disclose the steps they are taking to eliminate slave labor. In addition, corporations would have to undergo independent audits to ensure they are not complicit in forced labor and trafficking and submit public reports to the Department of Labor on those audits. CEOs would also be required to certify that their supply chains are free of slave labor, or that all instances of forced labor have been reported.

This story has been updated.

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