Sat, Jan 12, 2019 - Page 5 News List

US firm cuts China ties over camp labor

FORCED LABOR SCANDAL:Badger Sportswear said it would not sell anything that it had already bought from Hetian Taida Apparel or import any goods from the region

AP

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

In recent years, authorities in the far west Chinese region of Xinjiang have detained an estimated 1 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 Chinese 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 shipments from one such factory, the privately owned Hetian Taida Apparel (和田泰達), located inside an internment camp, to Badger Sportswear, a leading supplier in Statesville, North Carolina.

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

“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 1 percent of Badger’s total annual sales.

Repeated calls to Hetian Taida’s chairman, Wu Hongbo (吳宏波), rang unanswered.

In a previous conversation, Wu said that while Hetian Taida was located in the same compound as one camp that the government calls a “vocational skills education and training center,” Hetian Taida was not involved in the camp’s activities.

However, Wu said his company employed 20 to 30 “trainees” from the center as part of the region’s efforts to alleviate poverty.

Asked about the case, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang (陸慷) on Thursday said that while the ministry does not generally comment on individual business decisions, Badger appeared to have been acting on “misinformation.”

The vocational training centers in Xinjiang are “totally different from so-called forced labor,” Lu said, referring further questions on the camps to statements made by the regional government, which maintains that the centers 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 Web sites after the report appeared in December last year.

Hetian Taida was certified as complying with good business practices by Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), which sent an auditor to a different Hetian Taida facility, not the one inside the internment camp.

That factory “is not engaged in the use of forced labor,” WRAP and Badger said.

However, Badger added that “historical documentation provided by Hetian Taida regarding their prior facility was insufficient to conclude with certainty” that it had met Badger’s sourcing standards.

WRAP spokesman Seth Lennon said that the facility they investigated was not the same place AP wrote about.

“Our model centers around factories approaching us requesting to be audited,” Lennon wrote in an e-mail. “We do not seek out any factories whatsoever to audit unsolicited.”

The Washington-based Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), which has agreements with many educational institutions across the US to ensure the products they sell on campus are ethically manufactured, conducted its own investigation and found additional evidence confirming the factory supplying Badger was inside an internment camp.

This story has been viewed 1266 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top