Or lack thereof
The past few years have finally seen companies’ have their collective feet held to the fire for various issues that were a result of their business practices. While a lot of companies are gradually (but slowly) getting better, there are still a lot of problems that these companies need to correct. One of the biggest of these recent problems has been the exploitation of slave labour from Xinjiang (or East Turkestan) in Western China. The Uyghurs have exploited and forced into “re-education camps” (concentration camps) and the US, UK, EU, UN as well as other countries and various media organizations have described as genocide crimes against humanity. This article from Vox’s Future Perfect provides a good overview of the situation (TW: Sexual Violence).
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute identified 27 factories in 9 provinces that “are using Uyghur labour transferred from Xinjiang since 2017. Those factories claim to be part of the supply chain of 82 well-known global brands. Between 2017 and 2019, we estimate that at least 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang and assigned to factories through labour transfer programs under a central government policy known as ‘Xinjiang Aid’”
This report was first released on March 1st, 2020. Since this time, there has been positive sustained pressure on brands to cut ties with these factories and ensure that their supply chains do not use forced labour. While some brands, such as Marks & Spencer have publicly committed to The Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region’s call to action, a lot of brands have expressed hollow statements, like Nike’s saying that it did not source product from the region said it’s suppliers that textiles and spun yarn are not from that region.
But to give some of these companies credit, at the very least it does seem like some of them are doing due diligence and are checking their supply chain. This is the completely opposite of what other brands are doing, like Hugo Boss and Inditex (owners of brands like Zara), who are doubling down.
Which brings us to ASICS. I’ve got a long history with ASICS. I’ve worn their running shoes, I used to exclusively wear their Onitsuka Tiger casual shoes, I follow a lot of their accounts on social media. I love their corporate motto of “Sound Mind, Sound Body” and they are making a concerted effort to create more environmentally friendly products. They also push a lot of positivity with their social media and corporate campaigns and often include of lot of diversity. But all of this seems to mean nothing when it comes to human rights. ASICS is one of the biggest brands that is digging its heels it when it comes to the forced labour of Uyghurs. It made a statement on Weibo saying that the local supply chain includes Uyghur cotton and would continue to do so. ASICS global HQ in Kobe, Japan later said that the statement was unauthorized, but its not a good look.
This is on top of previous statements that the company has made in light of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, at which time the brand stated it supported “Hong Kong and Taiwan as an inseparable part of China’s territory”.
So, we might wonder what we can do about this. After all, pretty much every company has dirtied its hands in many different ways. “No ethical consumption under capitalism” is not just a popular statement, but apparently quite true. Now, this statement can lead to people just shrugging their shoulders and thinking there’s nothing we can do. But sustained pressure and not being silent about it will help us achieve the outcome we want.
There is also the fact that governments have been stepping in as well. The US now has a total ban on cotton products and tomatoes that come from the Xinjiang region. Its not everything, but it’s a good start.
Those of us with platforms of any size also help by speaking up about it when we interact with these companies. After all, silence always helps the oppressors.
However, this DOES NOT make it ok to harass Chinese people about this. Be mad at their government, not the people themselves, who have little power when it comes to issues like this. This is also true for the average employee at ASICS. These decisions are made over their heads. Harassment is NEVER ok.
We have a platform to succeed because many brands are already taking steps to do better, we just need to push them to do more. As mentioned previously, ASICS’ global HQ said it did not approve of the statement made by the higher ups at ASICS China. We can push to have the company make policy changes by sustaining and displaying our discomfort with the policies that are currently in place.
As far as buying their products goes, this isn’t a call for boycotts, since those types of campaigns rarely work. Rather, focus on interacting with their content and make reminders how you want things to change. In some cases, it may be a stretch, but it is always worth trying.
As for anyone from ASICS who reads this; I understand that 12% of global sales come from China, but PEOPLE over PROFITS always. The company must untangle itself from this issue.
And for anyone who responds with “That’s just how businesses are, deal with it”, no. I refuse to accept the status quo. By being defeatist, there is no hope for change. I also acknowledge that many us have this “stink” on us, but we can all do better and do more. We can and we will make a difference.
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