Badger Sport has cut off ties with one of its Chinese suppliers, Heitan Taida Apparel, after reports suggested that it was using slave labor from the Xinjiang internment camps to produce clothing for the American brand. In the U.S., the customs and border protection department typically has the right to seize any goods identified as being produced through forced labor.
Badger said that “it will 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,” according to Japan Times.
According to Chinese officials, the internment camps are “re-education centers” aimed at enabling the detainees to learn life skills. However, many who have escaped the camps tell horror stories of abuse. An investigation by the Associated Press (AP) last December showed that the camps forced some of the residents to work in the food and manufacturing industries.
People were usually paid very little money for their hard work. Worse, some were never paid anything. “The camp didn’t pay any money, not a single cent… 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,” one of the detainees said to AP. Even people who had professional jobs are being trained to do menial work at the camps.
According to estimates, about 10,000 detainees are currently in forced labor in Xinjiang. China has unsurprisingly lashed out at the report, calling it “made out of thin air.” Yet, the Xinjiang Propaganda Department failed to respond to the questions posed by some reporters. Even the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman just stated that the reports were untrue without specifying details of what was happening inside the “re-education camps.”
American universities that stocked Badger clothing have pulled the brand from its shelves. The Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) conducted its own investigation into the matter and confirmed the use of slave labor for manufacturing Badger Sportswear clothes. WRC has agreements with several U.S. universities to ensure that they only sell ethically manufactured products on campus.
Several U.S. Congressmen have condemned China’s use of forced labor to produce goods sold in America. New Jersey Republican Congressman Chris Smith raised a call to ban such items being shipped out of China.
“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, but they are also now profiting from their labor… U.S. consumers should not be buying, and U.S. businesses should not importing, goods made in modern-day concentration camps,” Smith said in a statement (ABC News).
Recently, China had invited diplomats from 12 countries to tour the Xinjiang region to show that people in the camps are being taught work skills and nothing more. However, human rights organizations have pointed out that Beijing simply took the diplomats on a staged performance and never really allowed them to explore Xinjiang on their own. Millions of Uyghurs have apparently been detained in the region by the Communist Party, which forces them to renounce their religious practices and pledge loyalty to the Party.