WASHINGTON— The U.S. government said Tuesday it is reviewing reports of forced labor at a Chinese internment camp where ethnic minorities are sewing clothes being shipped to the U.S. market.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that reports from the AP and other media “appears to link the internment camps identified in Western China to the importation of goods produced by forced labor by a U.S. company.”
The AP tracked shipments from a factory in a camp in China’s far western Xinjiang region to Badger Sportswear in North Carolina. The company ships clothing to universities, colleges and schools around the U.S.
Experts said possibly as many as 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and others from predominantly Muslim groups are detained in such camps, which function in political indoctrination and forced labor.
After recent news reports, Badger said that it suspended business with Chinese supplier Hetian Taida Apparel and was investigating.
A statement on its website said “one percent or less” of Badger products was sourced from Hetian Taida.
The Workers Rights Consortium, which has agreements with many educational institutions to make sure the products they sell on campus are ethically manufactured, said “forced labor of any kind is a severe violation of university codes of conduct.”
The group’s executive director, Scott Nova, said in a message to affiliate universities that, building off the AP’s report, WRC gathered evidence indicating the factory that supplied Badger with collegiate apparel was “one and the same” as the factory inside the highly-guarded internment compound.
The state-run China Daily published an article on Tuesday which profiled ethnic minorities in Xinjiang who have been recruited to work in garment factories. The story featured a 23-year-old woman named Burebgul Ali who was “reluctant to work at the factory.”
“But after skills training and learning Mandarin,” the story said, “Burebgul found her job quite comfortable and could make at least 3,000 yuan ($435) per month.”
It’s against U.S. law to import products of forced labor. Customs and Border Protection said it is part of its mission to enforce “both laws to protect individuals from forced labor and our nation’s economy from businesses profiting from this form of modern slavery.”