As concern mounts about alleged forced labor of the Uyghur people in Chinese factories, the U.S. government and nonprofits are calling for change — and retail and fashion trade organizations are also taking measures aimed at preventing and mitigating labor abuse.
A coalition of more than 180 human rights groups came together today for the End Uyghur Forced Labour initiative, urging companies to cease sourcing textiles from western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) as well as to cut ties with any suppliers in China who benefit from forced labor.
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. In addition, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri this week introduced a bill called The Slave-Free Business Certification Act, a bill that would hold major corporations accountable for labor abuse in their supply chains.
Eight months ago, a consortium of retail and fashion trade organizations — including the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America and the National Retail Federation — came together “to address due diligence challenges and opportunities” amid reports of forced labor in XUAR.
“Since coming together, we have implemented a broad-based effort, convening with a wide variety of stakeholders, including NGOs, labor groups, and policy makers in all branches of government,” the groups said in a statement today. “In these meetings, we have highlighted public reporting on the region, shared our industry’s decades of work on due diligence and remedy, reiterated our zero tolerance approach to forced labor, and called for unified action by relevant stakeholders to find the best way forward.”
The consortium is calling on American leaders to establish a multi-stakeholder working group to tackle allegations of forced labor in XUAR. They say a “successful solution for all involved, above all the workers themselves” will require state-to-state engagement and partnerships spanning across government, industry, labor advocacy groups, NGOs and other stakeholders.
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 athletic brands separately told FN that they have ensured that neither they nor any of their suppliers use yarn sourced from Xinjiang.
In a statement to FN, Nike held that it does not source any products from the XUAR and further stated that it has confirmed with its contractors that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region. The Swoosh said it prohibits “any type of prison, forced, bonded or indentured labor.” The Beaverton, Ore.-based company added 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.”
An Adidas spokesperson said yesterday 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 said 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 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.