The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) has filed a complaint in the Netherlands, alleging that Patagonia, Nike and two other brands may have benefited from forced labor among the Uyghur population in China’s Xinjiang province.
In the complaint, ECCHR called on the Dutch Public Prosecutor to further investigate these alleged human rights violations from these companies that have headquarters in the Netherlands.
“It is unacceptable that European governments criticize China for human rights violations while these companies possibly profit from the exploitation of the Uyghur population,” said Corina Ajder, a legal advisor for ECCHR, in a statement. “It is high time that responsible corporate officers are investigated and — if necessary — held to account.”
In response to FN’s request for comment, Nike pointed to its previously statement that it does not source products from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Nike has stated that its Code of Conduct and Code Leadership Standards prohibit forced or indentured labor. Nike said it has found no evidence of Uyghur or other ethnic minority from XUAR employment in its supply chain.
Despite this, NBA star Enes Kanter has continuously protested Nike for what he sees as a “silent” response to the mistreatment on minorities in China. In a game against the Charlotte Hornets in October, the Boston Celtics center wore customized white shoes with the words “Hypocrite Nike” and “Made With Slave Labor” written on them. The move came shortly after he posted a video on Twitter calling out Nike for not doing enough to protest forced labor.
Wendy Savage, Patagonia’s director of social responsibility and traceability, told FN in a statement that it exited Xinjiang region after hearing about alleged forced labor and it does not currently source cotton from any region in China.
“We have a long history of acting ahead of governments and we will always do what we can to prevent forced labor and ensure compliance with our supplier code of conduct,” Savage said.
Brands that have taken a stance against using labor sourced for the Xinjiang region have also faced criticism in China. In March, Nike, Adidas and H&M came under fire in China for statements that were issued months prior against the alleged forced labor in the region. Some Chinese brand ambassadors ended their affiliations with these respective brands and social media users on Weibo accused the brands of smearing China.
China is largely considered the crucial market for footwear companies looking to establish global dominance. As a result of boycotts in the region, home-grown shoe brands such as Anta Sports and Li-Ning have grabbed market share.