Milwaukee Tool sued over alleged use of forced labor in Chinese prison

Milwaukee Tool sued over alleged use of forced labor in Chinese prison

The lawsuit against Milwaukee Tool says the company made gloves in a Chinese prison factory using forced labor under brutal conditions that included torture and beatings.

Milwaukee Tool was sued for allegedly making work gloves using forced labor in a prison factory in China under deplorable conditions that included beatings and torture.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee alleges the Brookfield company knew or should have known the gloves were made through forced labor, a violation of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

The plaintiff is identified only by the pseudonym Xu Lun, who in July 2021 was convicted of “subversion of state power,” a charge routinely used by the Chinese government to target human rights activists and activists. His real name has been withheld from the lawsuit out of concern for his safety, according to the Washington, DC-based law firm Farra & Wang, which brought the action.

For five months in 2022, Xu Lun was subjected to forced labor in the prison factory that allegedly made work gloves bearing the logo “Milwaukee Tool,” according to the lawsuit.

Xu Lun was in charge of fabric sorting, thread cutting, gluing, ironing and quality control, the suit said. Working days were up to 13 hours. Prisoners were only allowed a 10-minute break in the morning, a 25-minute break for lunch, and a 10-minute break in the afternoon. They were only allowed three days off per month.

“The factories had no air conditioning or heating, and prisoners were subjected to severe weather conditions,” the lawsuit states. “The summer months were particularly brutal, with extreme heat and humidity and poor ventilation. Many prisoners developed eczema and other skin conditions in the hot, humid factories.”

The factories were also loaded with fabric dust so heavily that prisoners were required to wash it off before being allowed to shower. The constant exposure to the dust caused respiratory health problems for many of the prisoners, according to the suit.

The facilities were cramped, making it difficult for prisoners to work comfortably or safely. Some have developed health problems such as hemorrhoids and prostatitis following long periods of sitting without breaks.

There were workplace injuries caused by the machines, including fingers punctured by the embroidery machines, the lawsuit alleges.

Process: Workers threatened, punished for not working hard enough

Xu Lun stated that he regularly saw fellow inmates threatened and punished when they refused to work, did not work long enough, or did not meet production quotas.

“Punishment included being forced to stand or crouch for long periods of time, being barred from visiting family, not being able to buy goods with their money, and being barred from using the bathroom,” the lawsuit notes.

“More severe punishments included being sent to the high security section of the prison, being placed in solitary confinement, forced to walk while squatting and being woken up every hour with a roll call. The most severe punishment included beatings and electrocution with electric rods,” according to the lawsuit. “The experience of being exploited and forced into grueling labor was humiliating and dehumanizing,” it said.

The Milwaukee Tool products manufactured at the prison were “Demolition” and “Winter Demolition” gloves, “Performance” gloves and “FreeFlex,” according to the suit.

“When the gloves came out, Milwaukee Tool really promoted the fact that unlike other companies that might only use an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), Milwaukee Tool was different. Rather than relying on others for design and manufacturing, Milwaukee Tool differentiated its glove offerings by promoting Milwaukee Tool’s ownership of the design and manufacturing processes,” the suit alleges.

Milwaukee Tool declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“However, Milwaukee Tool takes allegations of a supplier’s use of forced labor very seriously and does not support such practices. We empathize deeply with those affected by such practices and remain committed to ensuring ethical standards throughout our operations,” the company said in a statement to the Journal Sentinel.

“As we have previously stated, despite rigorous investigations, Milwaukee Tool found no evidence of forced labor in the production of our gloves. Our commitment to transparency and accountability is underscored by multiple internal and independent third-party audits, none of which found any. indicating such practices Milwaukee Tool believes the claim is without merit and the allegations will be vigorously defended,” it added.

Congress held hearings on human rights in China

Last July, a congressional panel examining human rights issues in China turned its attention to the company’s reported connections to forced labor as it examined “corporate complicity” in abuses linked to the Chinese Communist Party. In a hearing, the wife of a man in a prison where the gloves were reportedly made described working conditions and criticized what she called Milwaukee Tool’s “disregard for human rights” and called on Congress to act .

Those gloves may have been fake, according to the company.

“During investigations, Milwaukee Tool found several examples of counterfeit, unauthorized gloves originating in China bearing the Milwaukee brand name, which supports the likelihood that the gloves in question are examples of unauthorized, counterfeit gloves,” the statement said . Thursday’s statement.

Xu Lun worked for a non-governmental organization that supported the rights of vulnerable groups in China, including people with AIDS, hepatitis B and people with disabilities. The lawsuit does not specify the damages sought, but the Trafficking Victims Protection Act allows victims of forced labor to file a civil action against companies that knowingly benefited from the practice.

Milwaukee Tool is owned by Hong Kong-based Techtronic Industries, which is also named in the suit. The company has production in the United States, China, Vietnam, Germany and the United Kingdom.