The Associated Press has tracked recent, ongoing shipments from one such factory — Hetian Taida Apparel — inside an internment camp to Badger Sportswear, a leading supplier in Statesville, North Carolina. Badger’s clothes are sold on college campuses and to sports teams across the country, although there is no way to tell where any particular shirt made in Xinjiang ends up.
The shipments show how difficult it is to stop products made with forced labor from getting into the global supply chain, even though such imports are illegal in the U.S. Badger CEO John Anton said Sunday that the company would halt shipments while it investigates. -AP
The CEO of Hetian Taida Apparel, Wu Hongbo, confirmed the existence of a factory inside of a re-education compound - one of many across China where some 1 million Muslims, known as Uighurs, are estimated to live in detention where they are forced to give up their language and religion as they are politically indoctrinated.
"We’re making our contribution to eradicating poverty," Wu told the AP via phone.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, pushed back against the "many untrue reports" about the reeducation camps, though she did not elaborate.
"Those reports are completely based on hearsay evidence or made out of thin air," Chunying added.
A dozen people AP interviewed who had either been in a camp or had friends or family in one beg to differ - telling the news agency that detainees are given no choice but to work at the factories.
Most of the Uighurs and Kazakhs, who were interviewed in exile, also said that even people with professional jobs were retrained to do menial work.
Payment varied according to the factory. Some got paid nothing, while others earned up to several hundred dollars a month, they said — barely above minimum wage for the poorer parts of Xinjiang. A person with firsthand knowledge of the situation in one county estimated that more than 10,000 detainees — or 10 to 20 percent of the internment population there — are working in factories, with some earning just a tenth of what they used to earn before. The person declined to be named out of fear of retribution.
Former Xinjiang TV reporter currently living in exile said that during his month-long detention he saw young people who were taken away in the mornings for work in carpentry and at a cement factory without pay.
"The camp didn’t pay any money, not a single cent," said the man, only identified as Elyar due to fear of retaliation against his relatives still living in Xinjiang. "Even for necessities, such as things to shower with or sleep at night, they would call our families outside to get them to pay for it."
A Washington DC based Uighur, Rushan Abbas, said that her sister, Dr. Gulshan Abbas, is currently detained at a camp after being taken to what the Chinese government calls a "vocational center."
"American companies importing from those places should know those products are made by people being treated like slaves," said Rushan. "What are they going to do, train a doctor to be a seamstress?"
Mainur Medetbek’s husband did odd repair jobs before vanishing into a camp in February during a visit to China from their home in Kazakhstan. She has been able to glean a sense of his conditions from monitored exchanges with relatives and from the husband of a woman in the same camp. He works in an apparel factory and is allowed to leave and spend the night with relatives every other Saturday.
Though Medetbek is uncertain how much her husband makes, the woman in his camp earns 600 yuan (about $87) a month, less than half the local minimum wage and far less than what Medetbek’s husband used to earn.
“They say it’s a factory, but it’s an excuse for detention. They don’t have freedom, there’s no time for him to talk with me,” she said. “They say they found a job for him. I think it’s a concentration camp.” -AP
Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) who sits on the House Foreign Relations Committee called on the Trump administration Monday to formally ban products imported from Chinese companies linked to detention camps.
"Not only is the Chinese government detaining over a million Uyghurs and other Muslims, forcing them to revoke their faith and profess loyalty to the Communist Party, they are now profiting from their labor," said Smith. "U.S. consumers should not be buying and U.S. businesses should not importing goods made in modern-day concentration camps."