US footwear brand Skechers: no evidence of Xinjiang 'forced labor'

As some big international retail brands, including H&M and Nike, have chosen not to source cotton from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region over "forced labor" concerns based on false information, an earlier statement from US footwear producer Skechers on the issue has provided an alternative perspective.

The statement from Skechers, which was published in early March, addressed a February 2020 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which alleged suppliers of Skechers in China were benefiting from the forced labor of Uygurs.

Skechers refuted ASPI's allegations of Uygur forced labor with internal audits, concluded Uygurs employees have equal pay and working conditions as their fellow workers, and can leave whenever they choose.

Skechers has conducted several audits of its Chinese supplier in Dongguan, Guangdong province in 2020. "Neither of these audits revealed any indications of the use of forced labor, either of Uygurs or any other ethnic or religious group, nor did the audits raise any other concerns about general labor conditions," the company wrote in its statement.

"Skechers also confirmed that, consistent with regular practice, it conducted multiple audits on Lu Zhou (the Dongguan supplier) in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, both announced and unannounced, and that none of these audits revealed indications of the use of forced labor or other concerning labor conditions."

China firmly opposes any sanction imposed on individuals or entities based on the pretext of so-called human rights issues in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, and companies involved should avoid politicizing business issues, a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce said on Thursday.

H&M products had been removed from all major Chinese e-commerce platforms, including Taobao and JD, with its offline stores seeing sparse consumers since yesterday. As Nike and Uniqlo had all issued similar statements about Xinjiang, these brands also triggered boycotts and lost promotion contracts with many Chinese celebrities.

The companies that issued the statements about a halt to sourcing cotton from Xinjiang are all members of the Better Cotton Initiative, a Switzerland-based organization, according to a China Daily report on Friday.

On March 30 last year, the BCI announced it would suspend cooperation with licensed farmers in Xinjiang during the 2020-21 cotton season over allegations of forced labor in the region, the report said.

However, the BCI's office in Shanghai issued a statement on March 1 this year, in response to inquiries about the situation in the region, saying that not a single case of forced labor had been found in Xinjiang.