Walmart halts sale of Milwaukee Tool work gloves after grantee exposes claims they were made by forced prison laborers.

The Milwaukee Tool global headquarters are seen at 13135 West Lisbon Road, Brookfield, Wis., on March 9, 2023. Walmart is no longer listing Milwaukee Tool-branded gloves on its online marketplace and does not sell them in stores — responding to allegations that the tool company subcontractor relied on forced Chinese prison labor to manufacture certain models of gloves. (Jim Malewitz / Wisconsin Watch)

Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States, is no longer selling Milwaukee Tool-branded gloves on its online market place — after FIJ grantee Wisconsin Watch probed claims that a subcontractor for the Brookfield, Wisconsin-based tool company relied on forced Chinese prison labor to manufacture certain models of gloves.

Shi Minglei, who lives in Minnesota, launched a public campaign to pressure Milwaukee Tool to stop sourcing gloves allegedly made under grueling conditions at Chishan Prison in China’s central Hunan Province — and to urge giant retailers such as Walmart, Amazon, and The Home Depot to stop selling the gloves or helping third parties who sell them. The claims were examined by Wisconsin Watch reporter, Zhen Wang, who joined Wisconsin Watch as an FIJ fellow and speaks and reads Chinese.

Walmart confirmed its removal of the gloves weeks after a Wisconsin Watch investigation found additional evidence that Chishan prisoners were paid pennies to make work gloves bearing the iconic brand of Milwaukee Tool, a company with a nearly 100-year history in Wisconsin. A supplier for Milwaukee Tool subcontracted work to the prison, two former prisoners told Wisconsin Watch. Regulatory filings in Chinese, examined by Wisconsin Watch, show Shanghai Select was contracted to manufacture “Performance Gloves” for a subsidiary of Milwaukee Tool’s parent company. Milwaukee Tool did not respond to Wisconsin Watch’s questions about how it investigates its supply chain, but said it “found no evidence to support the claims being made.”

Two lawmakers who head the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, or CECC, a government body that monitors Chinese compliance with human-rights standards asked Milwaukee Tool to turn over information related to any internal investigations on its products’ links to prison labor.

 “We understand that Milwaukee Tool may have strongly worded policies against the use of forced labor … but the evidence in this case is very compelling,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.), and Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.) said in the letter. “Milwaukee Tool regularly conducts a complete and thorough review of our global operations and supply chain,” a spokeswoman said. “We have found no evidence to support the claims being made.”