Nike said it was reviewing its suppliers’ hiring practices in China, after The Washington Post and an Australian think tank reported that members of the Uighur Muslim minority were making shoes for the American brand in conditions that suggested they were coerced.
One of its biggest suppliers in the world, the South Korean-owned Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co., was now looking for ways to end the contracts of Uighur workers making Nikes in its factory, the American company said in a statement posted on its website.
Nike had been “conducting ongoing diligence with our suppliers in China to identify and assess potential risks related to employment of people from” Xinjiang, the statement said.
“Nike remains dedicated to ethical and responsible manufacturing and we are deeply committed to
ensuring the people who make our product are
respected and valued,” it said.
The Post reported last month on labor practices at the Taekwang factory, which has been a Nike supplier for more than 30 years and
produces about 8 million pairs of athletic shoes annually.
About 700 of the factory’s workers are members of the Uighur ethnic minority from the western region of Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has been on a campaign to strip the mostly-Muslim population of its culture, language and religion.
More than 1 million Uighurs have been put through reeducation camps aimed at “deradicalizing” them, according to Chinese authorities, and have now “graduated” from the camps.
In what appears to be the latest iteration of that campaign, at least 80,000 Uighurs have been dispatched in groups of 50 to work at factories across the country, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute wrote in a report published this month.
Chinese state media contains numerous reports about sending groups of young people away to work at factories where they live in dormitories and attend ideological training at “Pomegranate Seeds” schools — so called because Chinese leader Xi Jinping wants all ethnic groups to stick closely together.
On the Chinese internet, middlemen advertise the workers like chattel.
“They will be under semi-military style management, and the staff turnover rate is low,” said one middleman who posted on Tieba, a forum like Reddit. Another notice asked: “Do you want Xinjiang Uighurs? One year contract. Government management with police stationed at factories.”
A Post reporter who visited the Taekwang factory saw dozens of Uighur workers, mostly women in their early 20s, walking around the factory area. The women were too afraid to talk, but local residents who interact with them said that they did not come to the factory freely but were sent there.
While the Australian Strategic Policy Institute could not categorically confirm that the labor was forced, their report said there was clear evidence of “highly disturbing coercive labor practices” that was consistent with the International Labour Organization’s definition of forced labor.
When first contacted by The Post, Nike said that its suppliers are “strictly prohibited from using any type of prison, forced, bonded or indentured labor.” Taekwang said the workers offset local labor shortages and it was not aware of any requirements that the workers undergo ideological training.
In a new statement, Nike said that Taekwang’s Qingdao facility had not recruited new employees from the Xinjiang region since last year.