Recently, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) caught hold of apparel from China they suspect was sourced from Xinjiang’s prison labor force. Though the CBP did not reveal which American companies were importing such items, an investigation by the Associated Press tracked the products to enterprises like Costco.
The supplier in the incident is Hetian Taida Apparel, which was involved in a similar situation last year when media suggested that the business was supplying products made through forced labor to a U.S. company called Badger Sportswear. Costco started importing baby pajamas from Hetian Taida last month. Shipping records show that the supplier sent containers filled with polyester blankets for babies on two occasions, September 21 and 26.
Officials from Costco stated that they were not aware of the origin of the items and promised to take strict action to deal with the issue. The chairman of Hetian Taida is reported to have agreed to cooperate with U.S. customs. Human rights organizations have come forward to condemn Costco for conducting business with Hetian Taida. “The Chinese government has created a human rights nightmare for the Uighur people and Hetian Taida has been an active partner in Beijing’s brutality. The company’s use of forced labor is well documented and CBP is right to act,” Scott Nova, executive director of Worker Rights Consortium, said to Time.
A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) warns that minority communities in China are being forced into labor. Interviews with a few escaped detainees revealed that many of these factories were manufacturing apparel for the U.S. market. Even if a U.S. company does not import apparel directly from Xinjiang but gets it from other places in China, there is a strong possibility that the business might involve itself in a supply chain that uses forced labor from the region since Xinjiang produces more than 80 percent of China’s cotton.
The American Apparel & Footwear Association acknowledged the CSIS report. In June, the organization held a conference call after the Uyghur issue got serious. “We have been working closely with our members to educate them with available information about labor practices in Xinjiang province, so they can conduct the necessary due diligence to assure that products were not made with, or use components that were touched by, forced labor,” the organization said in a statement (Fast Company).
Adrian Zenz, an expert on China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, recently testified in front of legislators on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). He warned that detainees at Xinjiang camps were being put into forced labor in or near the camps, with the government providing subsidies to companies who “employ” such people.
“The employing companies would receive government subsidies of up to 6,800 yuan [US$960] for each individual trained and employed, as well as a shipping cost subsidy of 4 percent of their sales volume… Cheap minority labour combined with state subsidies meant that companies would be able to undercut global prices,” according to South China Morning Post.
With concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang growing, two Australian retailers have announced that they will stop buying cotton from suppliers in the region. The retailers, Cotton On and Target Australia, made the decision after conducting a thorough investigation of their supply chains.