Wisconsin Watch reporter Zhen Wang’s investigation into Milwaukee Tool’s labor practices won top honors Wednesday in the national 2023 Nonprofit News Awards.
The awards, run by the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), recognize top journalism produced by the organization’s more than 425 members, all of them nonprofit, independent news outlets across the United States. The investigation was edited by former Wisconsin Watch Managing Editor Dee J. Hall and Deputy Managing Editor Jim Malewitz. Photos for the story were made by freelance journalist Ariana Lindquist.
The entry was recognized in the Best Investigative Journalism category – Medium division, which honors reporting that “uncovered significant and impactful news based on the reporters’ own investigation and which advances and serves the public interest.”
Wang’s investigation found evidence that prisoners in China’s central Hunan Province were forced to make Milwaukee Tool-branded work gloves for 90-plus hours a week, earning pennies each day. Milwaukee Tool’s supplier subcontracted work to the prison, two former prisoners said in separate interviews that Wang conducted in Mandarin. A self-identified salesperson of the supplier told Wang it manufactured the majority of Milwaukee Tool’s work gloves. And regulatory filings confirmed the company was contracted to manufacture gloves for a subsidiary of Milwaukee Tool’s parent company.
Milwaukee Tool representatives said the company has not found evidence of forced labor within its supply chain, but they did not answer specific questions from Wisconsin Watch. Wang has since reported that Walmart removed Milwaukee Tool work gloves from its third-party platform and blocked future sales due to the forced labor allegations. Meanwhile the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China cited the Wisconsin Watch investigation in July while launching an investigation into Milwaukee Tool’s supply chain practices.
“The care, skill and time poured into the Milwaukee Tool prison labor investigation are reflected in the immediate impact and this national recognition, one of the most prestigious awards ever received by Wisconsin Watch,” said Wisconsin Watch Co-Founder At Large Andy Hall.
Wang’s reporting explored labor practices that are rarely uncovered by self-regulating corporate systems — or by journalists. Supply chains at companies like Milwaukee Tool, with thousands of contractors and subcontractors and sub-subcontractors — many of them overseas — are difficult for reporters and auditors to investigate.
“Zhen was relentless in her pursuit of the truth, and INN, with more than 400 members, has recognized that,” said Dee J. Hall, who retired at the end of June. “I am proud of everything Zhen has accomplished through her grit and determination.”
Read more here about why and how Wang conducted this investigation.