Statesville ap­parel firm cuts ties to Chi­nese com­pany

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY MARTHA MEN­DOZA AND YANAN WANG As­so­ci­ated Press

An N.C. sup­plier of Tshirts and other team ap­parel to col­lege book­stores cut its ties last week 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 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 Appa- rel, lo­cated in­side an in­tern­ment camp, to Badger Sports­wear, a lead­ing sup­plier in Statesville.

In a state­ment posted to its web­site, Badger said 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.

“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, rang unan­swered Wed­nes­day. In a pre­vi­ous con­ver­sa­tion, Wu said 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 For­eign Min­istry spokesman Lu Kang said Thurs­day that while the min­istry doesn’t 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 web­sites af­ter the re­port ap­peared in De­cem­ber.

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

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