Skechers sharply refuted a report that a shipment of its products manufactured in China was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on suspicion of forced labor under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA).
The allegation originated from the Communist Party-run tabloid Global Times, which claimed last week that customs officials had accused the footwear brand of using coerced Uyghur and other ethnic Muslim labor. When Skechers commissioned an independent investigation into Dongguan Lu Zhou Shoes in response, the outlet said, citing anonymous sources, it found no evidence of any wrongdoing.
“As a matter of policy, Skechers does not comment on rumor or innuendo,” a spokesperson from the company told Sourcing Journal. “That being said, the company is unaware of any seizure of products by any government agency under any existing statute. We strongly encourage you to validate facts thoroughly in order to avoid perpetuating rumors such as this.”
A CBP representative said that the agency does not comment on specific investigations, though it will scrutinize all credible allegations of forced labor. “As CBP uncovers additional evidence through these investigations, the agency will take appropriate action,” the spokesperson added. “CBP will continue to use all available resources to prevent goods made by forced labor from entering U.S. commerce, consistent with the agency’s statutory authority.”
Lu Zhou was named in a February 2020 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute as a suspected beneficiary of forced Uyghur labor, but Skechers maintains that its audits have turned up no such practice. While Uyghurs comprise a portion of Lu Zhou’s workforce, Skechers previously told Sourcing Journal, they are employed on the “same terms and conditions as all other factory employees and in particular with respect to working conditions, pay, promotions, etc.” and are free to leave if they no longer wanted to work there.
In July 2021, the crimes against humanity unit of France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office opened a case against Skechers, along with Zara owner Inditex, Sandro and Maje owner SMCP and Uniqlo, following a complaint filed by a Uyghur woman and the human-rights groups Sherpa, the Collectif Ethique sur l’étiquette and the Uyghur Institute of Europe. Skechers said at the time that it didn’t comment on pending litigation, though it had “no reason to believe” that Lu Zhou was using forced labor. The company also pledged to continue its “aggressive enforcement of its supplier code of conduct through audits and other inquiries to ensure compliance.”
The Global Times’ report arrived just as the UFLPA became the law of the land in the United States, creating a rebuttable presumption that all goods made in whole or in part in the northwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are made with forced labor—and therefore barred from entering the United States—unless clear and convincing evidence demonstrates otherwise.
“We are rallying our allies and partners to make global supply chains free from the use of forced labor, to speak out against atrocities in Xinjiang, and to join us in calling on the government of the PRC to immediately end atrocities and human rights abuses, including forced labor,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
At a daily press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin denounced the move, describing any allegation of forced labor as a “huge lie made up by anti-China forces to denigrate China.”
“The act is a clear indication that the U.S. is seeking to engender forced unemployment in Xinjiang through legal form[s] of action and to make the world decouple with China,” Wang said. “It fully exposes the US’s hegemonic nature—a country that violates human rights and breaks rules in the name of preserving them. China strongly condemns and firmly opposes these acts and will act forcefully to uphold the lawful rights and interests of Chinese companies and nationals.”
In a joint statement, also issued Tuesday, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association and the United States Fashion Industry Association hailed the UFLPA as a “key component of a broad global strategy, and our shared goal, to end forced labor.”
“Our members have a zero tolerance for forced labor and will continue to make every effort to mitigate, root out, eliminate and prevent forced labor in their supply chains,” the organizations said. “We look forward to an increased partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. government’s Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force as industry works to amplify the U.S. government’s efforts to eliminate forced labor not only in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region but globally. This partnership is critical to make UFLPA enforcement as effective and targeted as possible.”
Mark Burstein, industry principal at Logility, an Atlanta-based digital supply-chain traceability platform, said that detentions—both real and rumored—will become a regular occurrence now that UFLPA is in effect.
“CBP plans to substantially increase the number of transactions subject to review and enforcement at a much higher volume and cadence than in the past,” he told Sourcing Journal. “Without a traceability solution that collects and reports the required chain of custody data, it will be almost impossible to gather and assemble it within the new 30-day detention window. Importers must be proactive and have that information available as soon as their shipment is detained.”