US apparel firm cuts off Chinese factory in internment camp

A US supplier of t-shirts and other team apparel to college bookstores cut its ties on Wednesday with a Chinese company that drew workers from an internment camp holding targetted members of ethnic minority groups.

In recent years, authorities in the far west Chinese region of Xinjiang have detained an estimated one million Uighurs and Kazakhs in heavily-secured facilities where detainees say they are ordered to renounce their language and religion while pledging loyalty to the China’s ruling Communist Party.

Last month an Associated Press investigation found the Chinese government had also started forcing some detainees to work in manufacturing and food industries.

The investigation tracked recent shipments from one such factory, the privately-owned Hetian Taida Apparel, located inside an internment camp, to Badger Sportswear, a leading supplier in Statesville, North Carolina.

In a statement posted to its website, Badger said on Wednesday it will no longer do business with Hetian Taida, nor import any goods from the same region “given the controversy around doing business” there.

Trainees work in a garment factory at the Hotan Vocational Education and Training Centre in Hotan, Xinjiang, northwest China. – AP

“Furthermore, we will not ship any product sourced from Hetian Taida currently in our possession,” the company said, adding that the supplier accounted for about one per cent of Badger’s total annual sales.

Repeated calls to Hetian Taida’s Chairman, Wu Hongbo, rang unanswered on Wednesday. In a previous conversation with the AP, Wu said Hetian Taida was not affiliated with the camps, which the government calls vocational training centres, but employed 20 to 30 “trainees” from such a centre in Hotan city in southern Xinjiang.

Asked about the case, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said yesterday that while the ministry doesn’t generally comment on individual business decisions, Badger appeared to have been acting on “misinformation”.

The vocational training centres in Xinjiang are “totally different from so-called forced labour,” Lu said, referring further questions on the camps to statements made by the regional government, which maintains that the centres help poor Uighurs gain employable skills.

“It’s a tragedy for that business,” Lu said.

Universities stocking Badger clothing began pulling items from their shelves and websites after the report appeared in December last year. Hetian Taida was certified as complying with good business practices by Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, which sent an auditor to a different Hetian Taida facility, not the one inside the internment camp. -AP