Trade groups unite to fight forced labor in China supply chains

Five U.S. trade associations representing the apparel and footwear industries said their members are doing their utmost to prevent the use of forced labor in their China supply chains.

“As an industry representing brands and retailers, we do not tolerate forced labor in our supply chains,” said the associations, which include the American Apparel & Footwear Association, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association, U.S. Fashion Industry Association, and Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America, in a statement on Tuesday.

“The industry continues to evolve and improve our existing approaches to identify, detect, and address risks of forced labor in our supply chains,” the associations added.

The statement was released following recent news reports that the Chinese government is forcing Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) to work in factories throughout the country.

A recent report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute identified 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces that use Uygur labor transferred from detention camps in Xinjiang since 2017.

“Between 2017 and 2019, we estimate that at least 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang and assigned to factories through labour transfer programs under a central government policy known as ‘Xinjiang Aid,’” the report said.

The report highlighted, for example, a factory in eastern China that manufactures Nike shoes and is “equipped with watchtowers.”

“Companies across the industry are considering all available approaches to address the situation,” the five U.S. trade associations stated, adding, however, “our industry cannot solve this alone.”

The associations urged the U.S. government to “engage a multi-stakeholder working group to develop and deploy a collective approach that accurately assesses the problem, and find constructive solutions that target bad actors and protect the rights of workers and the integrity of global supply chains.”