New Report on Forced Uyghur Labor

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova
Date:March 2, 2020
Re:New Report on Forced Uyghur Labor

There was extensive media coverage this weekend of a new report, by an Australian research group, connecting Nike and other brands to factories in China employing Uyghur workers under conditions that strongly indicate forced labor. We have received requests for information from several universities over the last 24 hours, and I want to share what we know at this juncture:

  • The Chinese government is transporting workers from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), in western China, to factories in eastern and central China. While the practice has been apparent for months, the new report provides more detail than was previously known. Most forced labor violations affecting the Uyghurs, and other Turkic Muslim minorities, are taking place at factories inside internment camps in the XUAR, and at other workplaces in the region. The forced labor reported over the weekend is different: it is taking place outside of the XUAR, in other parts of China, where Uyghurs are being sent by the government to perform labor.
  • This is not normal labor recruitment. The workers do not come to these factories by choice. They face intensive surveillance, including monitoring of their “ideology” inside the workplace. They are subjected to political indoctrination and cannot practice their religion. In some cases, the government sends Chinese Communist Party officials to simultaneously surveil workers’ families back home in the XUAR, as “a reminder to workers that any misbehavior in the factory will have immediate consequences for their loved ones”, according to the new report.
  • The report identified a major footwear producer for Nike employing Uyghur workers, under conditions that bear multiple hallmarks of forced labor. The factory is owned by a Korean company, Taekwang Industrial. According to the report, Uyghur workers were sent to the factory without their consent. They must “attend a night school where they study Mandarin, sing the Chinese national anthem and receive ‘patriotic education.’” The curriculum closely resembles the “re-education” people receive in the XUAR’s internment camps. Nike’s public factory disclosure and US customs records confirm that Taekwang is a major Nike supplier.
  • Although Nike has been a focal point of media coverage, it is by no means the only brand named. The report covers more than two dozen factories (many making apparel and footwear but also electronic components) and connects these businesses, and their parent companies, to 83 brands. These include adidas, Apple, PUMA, Dell, Gap, Zara, General Motors, Google, H&M, Uniqlo, HP, Mercedes-Benz, Calvin Klein, Samsung, Victoria’s Secret, and FILA, among others.
  • Although three licensees (adidas, Nike, and Victoria’s Secret) are identified in the report, none of them are producing university logo goods at the factories in question (according to university disclosure data).
  • This form of coerced labor does, however, pose significant risk for university supply chains. The list of factories identified in the new report is not exhaustive. There are likely dozens—possibly hundreds—of other apparel factories in China, as yet unidentified, where the government has sent Uyghurs to work. Factories making collegiate goods could be among those using transported labor.
  • Action by licensees will be necessary to ensure they are not sourcing university goods from such factories. When the WRC provides guidance to licensees in the coming weeks, on the steps necessary to be in compliance with university codes relative to the XUAR crisis, we will include specific steps related to this issue. Standard factory audits will not be sufficient. It is important to note that many of the factories in the report, including the Taekwang factory, have undergone buyer audits. These audits evidently failed to identify the presence of Uyghurs who had been sent to work without their consent.
  • The WRC is contacting Nike, adidas, and Victoria’s Secret to seek information. It should be noted that adidas told the report’s authors that it does not have an “active relationship” with one implicated factory, Haoyuanpeng Clothing (the factory has a large sign on its facade bearing the adidas logo, which adidas says it is investigating) and that it recently stopped doing business with another implicated company, Huafu Fashion. The report also links Nike to Haoyuanpeng, but the factory does not appear on Nike’s disclosure list, and it is unclear if the linkage is accurate. When we receive concrete information from the brands, we will update you.
  • The report underscores the increasingly untenable position in which the XUAR crisis is placing global brands. Forced labor is central to the Chinese government’s ambition to suppress and control the Uyghur people. The breadth of the government’s repression, its systematic brutality, and the complicity of major Chinese manufacturers is embroiling leading brands in practices none of them want to be associated with. Compounding the risk for the apparel industry and other sectors, the US government is expanding its capacity to pursue civil penalties and criminal prosecution against brands that import goods made with forced labor. Far beyond the question of university code compliance, leading brands are facing a labor rights crisis that is, in important respects, without precedent.

We will continue to advise you on developments related to forced labor in—and related to—the XUAR. As always, please let me know if you have any questions.