Earlier this month a U.S.-based labor rights group reported French casualwear brand Lacoste was producing gloves in a Chinese detention camp.
The D.C.-based Worker Rights Consortium stated Uigher Muslims and imprisoned other ethnic minorities are being forced to sew the Lacoste-branded gloves, which the Chinese have dubbed as re-education camps.
Now leading U.S. lawmakers are proposing legislation at preventing goods made from forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region from reaching the United States. Accordindg to Reuters, the legislation would alter existing rules and require importers to obtain certification from the U.S. government that goods were not produced using forced labor by minority Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
The heart of the proposed new law is a “rebuttable presumption” that assumes that all goods manufactured in Xinjiang are made with forced labor and therefore banned under the 1930 Tariff Act, unless the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection certifies otherwise. This would shift the burden of proof from the current rule, which bans goods if there is reasonable evidence of forced labor.
While Lacoste denied any manufacturing impropriety, Worker Rights Consortium executive director Scott Nova told the Associated Press Lacoste and any other buyers should have known better than to trust auditors who interview workers on site, where they can’t speak freely.
“Given the climate of terror the government has created in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, given its intensive efforts to conceal proof of forced labor from foreign eyes, and given the pervasive surveillance apparatus that makes a confidential conversation oxymoronic, no worker is going to tell a factory auditor that her employer and the government are breaking the law by forcing her to work against her will,” Nova said.
Major brands named
The report, compiled by CECC staff and citing reports in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other Western media, listed major multinational firms, which are named in the bill and suspected of “directly employing forced labor or sourcing from suppliers that are suspected of using forced labor.”
It said they included sportswear firms Adidas and Nike, U.S. wholesaler Costco, high-street fashion retailers Calvin Klein, Esprit, H&M, Patagonia and Tommy Hilfiger. If the proposal becomes law, it could have a significant impact on the cotton industry in Xinjiang, which produces a substantial proportion of the world’s supply of the commodity.
In a statement on its website, Nike said it does not directly source products from Xinjiang and has a code of conduct forbidding use of forced labor. It said it was engaging with all of its suppliers to evaluate compliance with this.
Nike also said it had been “conducting ongoing diligence with our suppliers in China to identify and assess potential risks related to employment of people from XUAR.”
Article sources: Associated Press, Reuters Image: Lacoste gloves, source Lacoste website