Mainur Medetbek with a portrait of her husband who was detained while visiting China from their home in Kazakhstan. (AP: Dake Kang)
Chinese men and women locked in a mass detention camp where authorities are “re-educating” ethnic minorities are sewing clothes that have been imported all year by a US sportswear company.
- It is estimated 1 million Muslims are detained in camps in the Xinjiang region of China
- Now the Government is forcing detainees to work in manufacturing, food industries
- Hetian Taida Apparel factory has been shipping clothes to Badger Sportswear in the US
The camp, in Hotan, China, is one of a growing number of internment camps in the Xinjiang region.
Some estimates say 1 million Muslims are detained in these camps, forced to give up their language and their religion and subject to political indoctrination.
Now, the Chinese Government is also forcing some detainees to work in manufacturing and food industries.
Chinese authorities say the camps, such as this one in Artux in the Xinjiang region, offer free vocational training. (AP: Ng Han Guan)
Some of them are within the internment camps; others are privately-owned, state-subsidised factories where detainees are sent once they are released.
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 university campuses and to sports teams across the United States, 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 labour from getting into the global supply chain, even though such imports are illegal in the US.
Badger chief executive John Anton said the company would halt shipments while it investigates.
The company said on its Twitter account: “We immediately suspended ordering product from Hetian Taida and its affiliates while an investigation is conducted.
“One per cent or less of our products were sourced from Hetian Taida. We will not ship to customers any product in our possession from that facility,” the statement said.
Tweet: Badger Sport sourcing update – Badger Sport sources quality athletic apparel at our plants in the United States and Nicaragua as well as from supplier facilities around the world
Hetian Taida Apparel chairman Wu Hongbo confirmed the company has a factory inside a re-education compound, and said they provide employment to those trainees who were deemed by the Government to be “unproblematic”.
“We’re making our contribution to eradicating poverty,” Mr Wu said.
China says foreign media making ‘many untrue reports’
Chinese authorities said the camps offer free vocational training for Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities, mostly Muslims, as part of a plan to bring them into “a modern civilised” world and eliminate poverty in the region.
They said people in the centres have signed agreements to receive vocational training.
Residents walk past the Hotan City Apparel Employment Training Base where Hetian Taida has a factory in China’s Xinjiang region. (AP: Ng Han Guan)
The Xinjiang Propaganda Department did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman accused the foreign media of making “many untrue reports” about the training centres, but did not specify when asked for details.
“Those reports are completely based on hearsay evidence or made out of thin air,” the spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said at a daily briefing.
Mainur Medetbek cries as she speaks about the detention of her husband, who works in an apparel factory in China. (AP: Dake Kang)
However, a dozen people who either had been in a camp or had friends or family in one said detainees they knew were 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 more than 10,000 detainees — or 10 to 20 per cent 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.
A former reporter for Xinjiang TV in exile said during his month-long detention last year, young people in his camp were taken away in the mornings to work without compensation in carpentry and a cement factory.
“The camp didn’t pay any money, not a single cent,” he said, asking to be identified only by his first name, Elyar, because he has relatives still 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.”
‘People being treated like slaves’
Rushan Abbas holds a photo of her sister, Gulshan Abbas, who she says is among those detained in China. (AP: Jacquelyn Martin)
Rushan Abbas, an Uighur in Washington, DC, said her sister is among those detained.
The sister, Dr Gulshan Abbas, was taken to what the government calls a vocational centre, although she has no specific information on whether her sister is being forced to work.
“American companies importing from those places should know those products are made by people being treated like slaves,” she said.
“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 Ms Medetbek is uncertain how much her husband makes, the woman in his camp earns about $121 a month, less than half the local minimum wage and far less than what Ms 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.”
New Jersey Republican Congressman Chris Smith, a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, called on the Trump administration on Monday to ban imports from Chinese companies associated with 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 labour,” Mr Smith said.
“US consumers should not be buying, and US businesses should not importing, goods made in modern-day concentration camps.”