Statesville apparel firm cuts ties to Chinese company
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.