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Study Examines Forced Labor Risk of Footwear Brands’ Leather Supply

Adidas, Nike, Puma and Timberland earned high marks in a new study that examined the forced labor risk of footwear brands’ leather supply.

Know the Chain, a resource for businesses and investors who need to understand and address forced labor abuses within their supply chain, surveyed the leather supply chain of five footwear companies in the study titled, “How footwear companies and luxury brands tackle forced labor risks in their leather supply chains.”

The organization praised athletic footwear brands for their commitment to better working conditions. Adidas was recognized for its freedom of association as well as its training of tanneries in Taiwan and China on how to address forced labor risks. The company is also creating multi-stakeholder partnerships to address risks at third-tier leather hide suppliers in Brazil and Paraguay.

Nike’s focus on working with long-term, strategic suppliers that demonstrate a commitment to engaging workers and providing safe working conditions won the praise of Know the Chain. Puma was lauded for having many grievance mechanisms in place for its first-tier suppliers in China, including offering a text message service that is widely used and trusted by supply chain workers.

The study found that early indicators of forced labor are discrimination against trade union members, lack of work contracts and forced overtime. Meanwhile, China, the largest producer of footwear, and Brazil, known for its cattle ranches, were named hot-spots for forced labor in the footwear industry.

According to the study, workers in Chinese footwear factories reported being forced to work overtime of up to 30 hours per month, and workers who refused to work overtime suffered punishment through deduction of wages, demotion, verbal abuse and disciplinary warnings.

The study also disclosed that the information obtained for the survey shows little on how, apart from auditing suppliers, companies address forced labor risks in countries where hide and leather production exist. In fact, China’s leading women’s footwear manufacturer Belle International refused to disclose a supplier code of conduct.

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