U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently seized a shipment of products made by the United States-based shoe brand Skechers on suspicion that the items may have been manufactured through slave labor by Uyghur ethnic minorities from China’s western Xinjiang region, the state-run Global Times reported on Thursday.
“US shoe company Skechers has had a batch of its products manufactured in China seized by US customs, which cited the so-called Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act,” the newspaper reported on June 16, citing information from unnamed sources.
“In order to appeal to the US customs, Skechers organized an independent investigation conducted by a third party, which found no evidence to support so-called forced labor allegations,” the Chinese Communist Party-controlled newspaper claimed.
The Skechers shipment in question allegedly contained products specifically manufactured by “Dongguan Lvzhou Shoes Industry Co. Ltd,” a Chinese company that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has accused of “using Uygur [sic] ‘forced labor,’” according to the Global Times.
“Dongguan in [China’s] Guangdong Province has paired with Tumxuk city in Xinjiang. Since 2013, Dongguan Lvzhou has hired more than 1,000 workers from the Xinjiang region,” the newspaper acknowledged on Thursday.
Neither the U.S. government nor Skechers has confirmed the report.
Reporters for Canada’s the Globe and Mail newspaper visited a factory complex operated by Dongguan Luzhou Shoes Co. Ltd. in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, in early 2021 to interview the site’s laborers about their working conditions.
“Men in blue police-style uniforms patrolled the factory roads at the Dongguan Luzhou campus when The Globe came to visit,” the newspaper detailed, adding that “barbed wire” surrounded a dormitory building on the same campus.
The Globe and Mail detailed some of their conversations at the factory:
“We separate ourselves from them [workers from Xinjiang],” a worker surnamed Wang told the Globe and Mail at Dongguan Luzhou Shoes Co. Ltd. “They have their own dormitories – for example, this building is for Xinjiang people, and this building is for Hui and Han Chinese. At work, it’s also Xinjiang people working together. They have their own canteen and their own boss,” Wang said. Dongguan Luzhou previously produced Brooks brand shoes, he said. Today, it makes Skechers, said a woman who manages a neighbouring factory.
“In a statement, Skechers said its corporate policy has ‘zero tolerance for forced labour,’” the Canadian newspaper noted at the time. “The company did not answer questions about whether it sources shoes from Dongguan Luzhou.”
China’s westernmost region of Xinjiang is home to a handful of (largely) Turkic-speaking, Sunni Islam-adherent ethnic minorities known as Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz people. China’s ruling Communist Party has subjected up to three million of these minorities to slave labor conditions at Chinese factories since at least 2017. Beijing’s systematic funneling of Xinjiang’s minorities into forced labor camps was designated a form of “genocide” by former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January 2021. The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has continued to recognize this determination through its support of the “Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act,” which “imposes importation limits on goods produced using forced labor in China, especially the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and imposes sanctions related to such forced labor.”
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