There's been hot debate among at-home mechanics for years over which tool company makes the best power tools. Respective camps include the DeWalt folks, those who live and die by Snap-On, the smart nerds like me who run Ryobi, and those who bleed the crimson red of Milwaukee. 

What no one is brave enough to admit is that each likely has its place in your toolbox, and a combination of the big brands is probably what you want. I, myself, have Ryobi and Milwaukee, the latter of which is one of the brand's big impacts that helps with all manner of garage wrenching on my motorcycles, Honda Ridgeline, and Can-Am X3.

But a recent lawsuit, brought to the Eastern District of Wisconsin—Milwaukee Division—alleges that Milwaukee Tools used forced prison labor in China to manufacture the brand's gloves.

Not great, folks. 

According to Wisconsin Public Radio, "A lawsuit alleges that Milwaukee Tool and its parent company purchased work gloves manufactured using forced prison labor in China. The lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin on Thursday, on behalf of someone who said they made the gloves while imprisoned in China for human rights activism. That individual is referenced in court documents under the pseudonym of Xu Lun. The lawsuit claims the company knew or should have known work gloves with the Milwaukee Tool logo were being assembled by forced prison labor."

The lawsuit itself names both Milwaukee Tools and Techtronic Industries, Milwaukee's parent company, which also manufactures Ryobi and Hart power tools, and is based in Hong Kong. The company also makes Hoover, Oreck, and Dirt Devil cleaners, and has manufacturing facilities in China, Vietnam, the United States, Mexico, and Europe. 

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Within the lawsuit, the plaintiff states, "It is a well-documented fact that the manufacturing industry in the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”) is riddled with the use of forced prison labor. Companies, including American companies, who outsource their manufacturing to the PRC often say their products are not tainted by such practices by touting their companies’ environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) practices." 

They added, "Defendants are one such company. Publicly, they say they have no tolerance for forced labor. They point to their internal policy against modern slavery and human trafficking. They claim to audit and investigate their suppliers thoroughly and regularly. But Defendants really did no such thing."

Accordingly, while the plaintiff was incarcerated at the Hunan Chishan Prison in China, "On or around February 23, 2022, Plaintiff began being subjected to forced labor. Specifically, he was forced to make a variety of textile goods, including work gloves bearing the distinct “Milwaukee” logo. He would continue to work on the Milwaukee Tool gloves until he was released from prison on July 21, 2022." 

And they describe grueling conditions, with no air conditioning in the summer, nor heat in the winter. Fabric dust wasn't evacuated properly, leading to respiratory issues, along with 13-hour work days, with zero regard toward safety or any form of safety training. Furthermore, the plaintiff describes prisoners being punished and threatened repeatedly for not making quotas, including beatings and the use of electric cattle prods. 

You can read the full lawsuit here

Suffice it to say, the lawsuit is damning. But this report comes on the heels of further revelations that other manufacturers across China have used forced or slave labor to produce a lot of the niceties and conveniences of modern life. It's most definitely not an isolated occurrence. 

We'll have to wait and see what happens with this lawsuit, but the feds have been looking into these reports as of late, and more could be done about them soon. As for whether or not the industry will quit using Chinese operations to build their tools, that's to be seen, though based on the fact that DIY has seen a resurgence in recent years as inflation has wreaked havoc on everyone's bank accounts, tool demand isn't likely to slow. 

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