Tall wire fences and hundreds of cameras surround a huge complex of more than 30 structures in Hotan, a city in China’s far western Xinjiang region. Armed officers and guard dogs keep watch outside.
The complex is one of a growing number of internment camps in far western China. Most of the men and women detained in the camps are Muslim minorities. Experts and rights groups say China has detained about 1 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.
The Chinese government has described the camps as re-education centers. It has said the detainees are being taught Chinese culture, language, history, and a “modern” way of life.
The detainees also make clothing, the Associated Press reports. Some of the clothing made in the camps is being sold to sports teams and colleges across the United States.
The Chinese government recently began describing the camps as free training centers. They say people learn skills to help them find work. It claims that people in the centers have signed agreements to receive such job training.
The AP followed and investigated continual shipments from an internment camp in Hotan to Badger Sportswear, a clothing company in the American state of North Carolina.
The shipments have raised questions about whether the clothes were made with forced labor, which is illegal in the United States.
The clothing is made for Hetian Taida Apparel. The company says it is not connected with the internment camps. But it admits its workforce includes detainees.
John Anton, the U.S. chief of Badger, told the AP that the company would use a different supplier while it investigates the issue.
The Xinjiang Propaganda Department did not answer an AP request for comment. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Monday accused foreign media of making “untrue reports” about the training centers. But Hua did not provide any more details.
“The camp didn’t pay any money, not a single cent.”
Former camp detainees and those whose friends or family members have been detained told the AP that people are being forced to work at factories. They also said that even people with professional jobs were retrained to do lower-level work.
They said some detainees receive no pay. Some earn only a tenth of what they used to make, and others earn just above minimum pay for the poorest parts of the region.
A former reporter for Xinjiang TV who asked to be identified only as Elyar was in a detention camp last year. He said young people in his camp were taken away in the mornings to work without pay in woodworking and a cement factory.
He said, “The camp didn’t pay any money, not a single cent. Even for necessities, such as things to shower with or sleep at night, they would call our families outside to get them to pay for it.”
China is facing growing international pressure about the internment camps. In answer, its state broadcaster in October aired a report that showed a “vocational skills education and training center” in Hotan.
Wu Hongbo, head of Hetian Taida Apparel, confirmed that the company has a factory inside the same complex shown in the China Central Television report.
He told the AP that Hetian Taida provides employment to 20 to 30 trainees chosen by the government. He said the trainees inside the complex are treated like normal employees. They make up a small part of the hundreds of people in its workforce. The AP could not independently confirm if any workers were permitted to freely come and go, or how much money they were paid.
Badger Sportswear to move production
Shipments filled with clothes were sent from Xinjiang to Badger Sportswear at least 10 times this year.
The clothes have gone to university bookstores and sports teams in several American states. Badger chief John Anton said Sunday that his company has gotten clothing from an affiliate of Hetian Taida for many years.
Anton said the affiliate opened a new factory in western China about one year ago. He said Badger Sportswear officials visited the factory. It has a certificate that shows the factory follows labor laws.
Anton, however, said the company "will move production elsewhere while we investigate the matter raised.”
The United Nations and United States consider forced labor to be a kind of modern slavery. The United States bans imports of items made through forced labor. It is not clear whether other companies also export products made by forced labor in Xinjiang to the United States, Europe and Asia.
New Jersey Republican Congressman Chris Smith is a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee. On Monday, he asked the Trump administration to ban imports from Chinese companies connected to the internment camps.
Smith said, “Not only is the Chinese government detaining over a million Uyghurs and other Muslims, forcing them to revoke their faith and profess loyalty to the Communist Party, they are now profiting from their labor. U.S. consumers should not be buying and U.S. businesses should not be importing goods made in modern-day concentration camps.”
I'm Jonathan Evans.
I'm Ashley Thompson.
Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on Associated Press news report. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
region - n. part of a country
vocational - adj. relating to the special skills, training, etc., that one needs for a job or occupation
affiliate - n. an organization (or business) that is a member of a larger organization
consumer - n. a person who buys goods and services
concentration camp - n. internment center for members of national or minority groups or for political prisoners