US supplier cuts ties with Chinese company over internment camp labor

US supplier cuts ties with Chinese company over internment camp labor
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A North Carolina company that supplies apparel to U.S. schools has cut ties with a Chinese company accused of using internment camp labor.

Badger Sportswear on Thursday announced it will no longer work with Hetian Taida Apparel following an investigation into media reports that Muslim detainees in Chinese internment camps make some of its products. 

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"Upon hearing these press reports, we immediately suspended ordering, receiving or shipping any product from the supplier, Hetian Taida Apparel Co., Ltd., and launched a multi-faceted investigation," Badger Sportswear said in the statement posted to its website

"Out of an abundance of caution and to eliminate any concerns about our supply chain given the controversy around doing business in Northwestern China, we will no longer source any product from Hetian Taida or this region of China," the statement adds. "Furthermore, we will not ship any product sourced from Hetian Taida currently in our possession."

The AP in a December investigation found Badger Sportswear has received ongoing shipments from a factory located in a Chinese internment camp where ethnic minorities are forced to work and live.

Those imports were illegal because they were the product of forced labor, which the U.S. and the United Nations call a form of modern-day slavery, according to the AP.

Investigators found that one of Hetian Taida's factories in China adhered to good business practices according to standards established by the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), the AP reported. But WRAP said they have not sent representatives to the factory at the center of the AP's previous investigation.

“Our model centers around factories approaching us requesting to be audited,” WRAP spokesman Seth Lennon told the news service. “We do not seek out any factories whatsoever to audit unsolicited.”

The Chinese government two years ago launched a "reeducation" campaign aimed at Muslim Uighur and Kazakh ethnic minorities. As part of the campaign, Chinese authorities have detained thousands in internment camps, where many are forced to perform menial labor.  

China is facing intensifying international pressure over the camps, which have been called a human rights abuse. 

The AP found that one internment camp in Hotan, a city located in Xinjiang, is the site of ten workshops where detainees make clothes for Hetian Taida Apparel.

Badger Sportswear provides athletic gear for sports teams across the U.S., including high school teams. Schools across the country began pulling Badger products off of their shelves following the report.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told the AP that Badger Sportswear was acting on "misinformation" when they decided to cut ties.

Badger in the statement noted that the Chinese supplier accounted for one percent of its total annual sales, so it does not expect "any interruption" in its "service levels."