Image: Lacoste

Hand-sewn gloves are among the latest items to be linked to factories scattered throughout a region in northwest China known for playing home to mass detention camps, where ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are reportedly forced to “learn Chinese and memorize propaganda songs” as part of a secretive – yet sweeping – “re-education” campaign. However, instead of being provided with the opportunity to “study Mandarin and learn trades,” as the Chinese government propaganda portrays the “voluntary vocational education centers,” the individuals who unwillingly inhabit these centers are tortured and forced to work, media outlets across the globe report. 

A recent report from Agence France-Presse (“AFP”) – which cites the findings of Washington, D.C.-based labor rights group Worker Rights Consortium – reveals that the gloves that were constructed within the confines of these Chinese internment camp bear a distinctive marking: Lacoste’s famous alligator logo, linking the major French brand to China’s forced labor camps, where more than one million individuals have been detained over the past three years, often without the right to a trial, much to the criticism of international human rights activists and the media, alike. 

A rep for Lacoste told the AFP that the company “prohibits the use of forced, mandatory, or unpaid labor of any type.” She further asserted that “the Chinese factory had been visited by [Lacoste-enlisted] auditors who interviewed workers and did not report any concerns,” something that Worker Rights Consortium has dismissed, with its executive director Scott Nova saying that “Lacoste and any other buyers should have known better than to trust auditors who interview workers on site, where they cannot speak freely.” 

The reported link to Lacoste is not the first time that a major brand has been tied to the “rapidly expanding” camps in the Xinjiang region. The latest report underscores a larger issue – one that Washington, D.C.-headquartered Center for Strategic and International Studies director Amy Lehr characterizes as “state-encouraged forced labor and part of a much broader pattern of extremely severe human rights violation” – that has seen “everything from sportswear to pajamas” made in these carefully guarded detention camps find its way from Xinjiang into the U.S. and Europe.  

In the spring of 2019, for instance, adidas, H&M, and Gap Inc. were among the companies whose names were connected to textiles at the end of “the long, often opaque supply chains that travel through China’s northwest region of Xinjiang,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “The gray yarn made by Huafu in Xinjiang goes to factories elsewhere in China and in Bangladesh and Cambodia that weave T-shirts for Hennes & Mauritz’s H&M retail chain,” two people familiar with the Swedish fast fashion giant told the WSJ. “The yarn also turns up in the supply chains of adidas and Esprit Holdings, although the brands don’t buy directly from Huafu, according to the companies.”

The news followed from headlines in late 2018, which uncovered that apparel orders made by North Carolina-based Badger Sportswear were being fulfilled by prisoners in internment camps on the Chinese mainland and then entering into the global supply chain. The garments in that case were sourced from Hetian Taida Apparel, whose chairman Wu Hongbo confirmed that the company does, in fact, maintain a factory inside a “re-education” compound in which it provides employment to individuals who have been deemed by the Chinese government to be “unproblematic.” 

Still yet, those revelations came less than a year after consultant Peter Humphrey – who was jailed in Qingpu Prison just outside of Shanghai for two and a half years – spoke out about his incarcerated, telling the Financial Times in February 2018 that “the prison was a business, doing manufacturing jobs for companies.” Humphrey, who was ultimately deported from China, said that “he recognized well-known brands, including [but not limited to] C&A and H&M” as ones whose products were being made in the factory where he was forced to work.  Spokesmen for H&M and C&A stated at the time that they had “not observed or been made aware of the use of prison labor” in their expansive and complex Chinese supply chains. 

Reflecting on brands’ continued ties to manufacturers in the region, the Associated Press asserted that these instances “show how difficult it is to stop products made with forced labor from getting into the global supply chain, even though such imports are illegal in the U.S,” where legislation enables authorities to block imports that are suspected to have been made by way of forced labor from entering into the U.S.