Gloves made for the French firm Lacoste were reportedly manufactured by Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in an internment camp, where they are forced to undergo ideological and behavioral training.
Lacoste, known for its green crocodile logo, said it had halted shipments of the product after being informed of the issue by the U.S.-based labor rights group Worker Rights Consortium, the Associated Press (AP) reports.
“Lacoste prohibits the use of forced, mandatory, or unpaid labor of any type,” company spokeswoman Nathalie Beguinot told AP.
While 95 of those gloves had already been sold in Europe, the remaining stock manufactured at the Yili Zhuo Wan Garment Manufacturing Co are being kept off of the market.
Beguinot added that the Chinese factory in question had been visited by auditors, who didn’t report any issues.
Worker Rights Consortium executive director Scott Nova, however, said Lacoste should have known better than to trust auditors who interview workers on site that are unable to speak freely.
“Given the climate of terror the government has created in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, given its intensive efforts to conceal proof of forced labor from foreign eyes, and given the pervasive surveillance apparatus that makes a confidential conversation oxymoronic, no worker is going to tell a factory auditor that her employer and the government are breaking the law by forcing her to work against her will,” Nova told AP.
In 2019, two former Yili Zhuo Wan workers told the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that they had been forced to study Mandarin and praise the government while effectively being paid a slave wage.
“This is basically state-encouraged forced labor and part of a much broader pattern of extremely severe human rights violation,” said Amy Lehr, who co-authored a CSIS report on the matter.
This case follows a report from the U.S. funded Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which found that more than 80,000 people had been sent to manufacturing facilities in nine provinces from 2017-19, at times directly from internment camps in the country’s northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Lacotse was named among the 83 foreign and Chinese firms “directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through potentially abusive labour transfer programs.”
Others include Amazon, Apple, BMW, Calvin Klein, Gap, Google, Huawei, L.L.Bean, Mercedes-Benz, Nike, Siemens, Sony, and Tommy Hilfiger.
In conditions reminiscent of the Xinjiang detention facilities, the laborers were required to live in segregated dormitories, study Mandarin, and undergo ideological training while on the clock. They were also prevented from practicing their faith, experienced constant surveillance, and had limited freedom of movement.
Chinese authorities are thought to have rounded up between 1-3 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, detaining them in camps across the region in a bid to reshape their religious and political worldview.