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Customs Investigates Whether Chinese Apparel Imports Came From Forced Labor Camps

With a sometimes-infamous history of sweatshops from New York and California to China and Cambodia, along with factory disasters in Bangladesh that killed thousands still fresh on the mind, the apparel industry could have to deal with another black mark on its reputation.

U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) is reviewing information published this week in the New York Times, Washington Post and by the Associated Press (AP) that “for the first time appears to link the internment camps identified in Western China to the importation of goods produced by forced labor by a U.S. company,” a spokesperson said Thursday. The information came to light after the AP tracked shipments from a factory in a camp in China’s far western Xinjiang region to Badger Sport in North Carolina.

In a statement on its website, Badger Sport said, “In recent days, press reports have alleged that one supplier’s facility, Hetian Taida Apparel Co. Ltd., was acting in a manner that is inconsistent with our policies. This facility is certified by Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), an independent, non-profit team of global social compliance experts dedicated to promoting safe, lawful, humane and ethical manufacturing around the world.”

A WRAP spokesman told Sourcing Journal “we are currently in the middle of investigating this matter.”

Badger Sport said it sources quality athletic apparel at its plants in the U.S. and Nicaragua, as well as from supplier facilities around the world and that it require all suppliers to follow its Global Sourcing Policy and “we have a zero tolerance policy for violations.

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Following the report, the company said, “We immediately suspended ordering product from Hetian Taida and its affiliates while an investigation is conducted. One percent or less of our products were sourced from Hetian Taida. We will not ship to customers any product in our possession from that facility.”

According to news reports from the AP, up to 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and others from predominantly Muslim groups are arbitrarily detained in such camps where they are said to be subject to political indoctrination and forced labor.

The Department of Labor’s 2018 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor counts China among its culprits for having forced labor in manufacturing industries like garments and footwear.

“Reviewing allegations of forced labor is one of the agency’s top priorities, and CBP is actively taking steps to obtain and develop all relevant information necessary to determine whether violations of section 1307 exist as set forth in these news articles,” the CBP spokesperson said.

CBP said it encourages stakeholders in the trade community “to closely examine their supply chains to ensure goods imported into the United States are not mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, with prohibited forms of labor,” such as slave, convict, indentured, forced or indentured child labor.