Nike said in a statement on Tuesday that one of its China-based suppliers has stopped hiring employees from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and sent all workers from the region back to their homes.
The announcement came amid scrutiny by the US government over possible links between its supply chain and forced labour.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said in early March that tens of thousands of ethnic Uyghur detainees in the XUAR have been transferred to factories throughout China, where they are forced to produce goods for at least 83 global retailers, including Nike, Apple, BMW, The Gap, Samsung, Sony, and Volkswagen.
Following ASPI’s report, Nike said in a statement on its website that it was reviewing its suppliers’ hiring practices in China and claimed one of its biggest suppliers in the world, South Korean-owned Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co., was exploring ways to end the contracts of Uyghur workers making shoes in its factory.
On Tuesday, in response to questions about the current state of its supply chain in China, the Oregon-based footwear company said it had confirmed that there are no longer any Uyghurs working for Qingdao Taekwang.
In its statement, Nike noted that it does not source products or components directly from the XUAR and said it had “confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region,” which grows 85% of China’s cotton, by official estimates.
The footwear manufacturer said it has also been conducting ongoing diligence with all of its suppliers to identify and assess potential risks related to the employment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities from the XUAR.
“This remains an issue of critical importance and we will continue to fight against inequality in any form,” Nike said.
Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, U.S. author and commentator Gordon G. Chang questioned Nike’s statement.
“Maybe they’ve sent all the Uyghur workers home, but I think that Nike needs to show proof that that has in fact occurred because Nike has been making statements that do not appear to be true,” he said.
The Washington Post reported on labour practices at the Taekwang factory, which it said has been a Nike supplier for more than 30 years and produces about 8 million pairs of athletic shoes annually.
The report said at the time that around 700 of the factory’s workers were Uyghurs from the XUAR, who Taekwang claimed offset local labour shortages, adding that it was not aware of any requirements for them to undergo ideological training.
A Post journalist who visited the site said they saw “dozens” of Uyghur workers who were “too afraid to talk,” but cited local residents who interact with them as saying the workers had not come to the factory freely.
Chang called on the US government to put measures in place that ensure an end to the importation of goods made with forced, slave, or indentured labour.
“US policy is moving in the right direction,” he said. “It can be done and I’m sure more will be done.”
The XUAR is home to a vast network of internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017.
Nike’s response comes a day after the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added to its Entities List 11 Chinese companies involved in alleged human rights abuses in the XUAR, barring them from access to US-sourced commodities, technology, and other items.
Amongst the entities was Hong Kong-headquartered Esquel Group—one of the world’s largest garment producers and a supplier for brands that include Tommy Hilfiger and Patagonia—as well as two other textile mills.
In a statement on its website, Nike claims that it does not have a relationship with Esquel Group, which it said ASPI had inaccurately reported in March.
Esquel Group on Tuesday denied that it uses forced labour from the XUAR and said it would lodge an appeal of the Commerce Department’s decision, while China’s foreign ministry accused the US of abusing export control measures and vowed to “continue taking all necessary measures to safeguard our companies’ legitimate rights and interests.”
Late last month, French company Lacoste became the second global retailer after Adidas to “agree to cease all activity with suppliers and subcontractors” implicated in ASPI’s report, following the launch of a campaign by EU Parliament member Raphaël Glucksmann pressuring brands to end ties with factories connected to forced labour. (Source: RFA)