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Skechers tip-toes around Uighur forced-labor claims after competitors Nike, H&M face China backlash

Skechers tip-toes around Uighur forced-labor claims after competitors Nike, H&M face China backlash
US footwear producer Skechers has lauded equal pay and promotion opportunities offered to its Uighur workers in China, after competitors Nike and H&M reportedly came under fire from Beijing over their statements on forced labor.

A carefully worded statement by Skechers assured the public that its factory in Dongguan was not using forced labor and specifically didn’t employ Uighurs, who could not resign from their jobs if they wished. The Uighur workers “are employed on the same terms and conditions as all other factory employees and in particular with respect to working conditions, pay, promotions, etc. It was also confirmed that all workers, including those from the Uyghur ethnic minority, are free to leave,” the company said.

The statement is technically a response to a March 1 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), which alleged that 82 international corporations producing wares in China, including Skechers, were benefiting from the forced labor of the Uighur Muslim minority. It came at a time when two other producers of apparel, Nike and H&M, are reportedly facing a backlash in China for speaking about the Uighur issue.

The fellow US-based sports-shoe maker published a statement addressing the ASPI allegations on March 10 and said pretty-much the same things as Skechers had: the company is “concerned” with the report but is certain that nobody is forced to work at its factories in China.

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Swedish clothing giant H&M spoke about the issue last year, in a now-deleted press-release that said it would stop sourcing cotton from Xinjiang province, the home of many Uighurs. The allegations mounted by ASPI are one of the latest iterations of the same accusation against Beijing, that claims it targets the Uighurs with various discriminatory policies as part of a supposed attempt to conduct a “genocide” of the miniroty group.

The Chinese government angrily rebukes such accusations, and this week Nike and H&M seem to be taking a flogging, after Beijing’s latest diplomatic spats with Washington and Brussels. Nike lost promotion contracts with some Chinese celebrities, like singer Wang Yibo, who told his millions of fans that he would “firmly oppose any act to smear China.” H&M was reportedly suspended on some of China’s top e-commerce platforms and faced a publicity backlash on Chinese social media similar to that targeting Nike.

Last week the US, the EU and Canada imposed sanctions against individuals and entities whom they accused of being involved in the alleged discrimination in Xinjiang. Beijing hit back with sanctions against EU officials and academics and blasted Western actions as exhibiting “stupidity and arrogance,” for which a price will have to be paid.

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Beijing says the criticism of its Xinjiang policies is based on exaggerations and misinterpretations of what is actually happening in the province. Policies and programs that its accusers call indiscriminate detention of Uighurs, forced sterilization and forced labor are, in fact, state-sponsored education and healthcare and an opportunity for the Uighurs to lift themselves and their families out of poverty, according to Chinese officials.

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