The Uighur ethnic minority is widely repressed in China, with people being detained through forced labor and even performing forced sterilization. Meanwhile, the products forced to be produced for the detainees end up on the shelves of Western stores, the agency AP reports.
A consignment of wigs and other beauty accessories was suspected by US federal authorities on Wednesday, July 1, on suspicion of being made from the hair of people imprisoned in Chinese prisons.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials told The Associated Press that the shipment contained less than 12 tons of hair products, valued at $ 800,000 (€ 711,427).
“The production of these goods is a very serious violation of human rights, and the arrest warrant is intended as a clear and direct signal to all organizations wishing to do business with the United States that illegal and inhumane practices will not be tolerated in U.S. supply chains,” said Brenda Smith, CPB Trade Office spokeswoman.
This is the second time this year that an arrest warrant has been issued for Chinese wig shipments on suspicion of violating the human rights of those who manufacture them. The orders are used to keep containers in US ports while possible violations are being investigated.
Think about where the goods are produced
Rushan Abbas, a Uighur-American activist, said women who wear wigs should think about who could make them. Her sister, who is a doctor, disappeared in China less than two years ago. The woman is believed to be in a detention camp.
“For us, this is extremely heartbreaking,” Abbas said.
“I want people to think about the slavery that people are experiencing today. My sister is sitting somewhere and being forced to do something – wigs?”
Wednesday’s shipment was made by Lop County Meixin Hair Product Co. Ltd. Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories Co. Ltd was similarly detained in May, despite the use of synthetic hair in its products.
Both exporters are based in the Xinjiang region, where the government has detained about a million people from Turkic ethnic minorities in the last four years.
They are held in internment camps, where they are subjected to ideological discipline, forced to renounce their religion and language, and where they are physically influenced. China has long held Uighurs, the majority of whom are Muslims, suspected of cultivating separatist tendencies because of their expressed culture, language and religion.
Reports from the AP and other news organizations have repeatedly revealed that people in these camps and prisons, which activists call “black factories,” produce sports and other clothing for popular U.S. brands.
The state has power
More than a year ago, AP tried to be with Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories Co., investigating forced labor camps. However, police called a taxi driver who was carrying journalists and ordered him to return, warning that the taxi was being tracked.
From the road, you can see that the factory, which has “Haolin Hair” written in large red letters, is surrounded by barbed wire fences and a video surveillance camera, and police officers in helmets stand at the entrance. The building across the street, which looked like an educational institution, was adorned with political slogans that “the state has power,” which called for submission to the Communist Party. It is unclear whether the factory is part of a detention facility, but former detainees said they were taken during the day to work in barbed wire-guarded, guarded complexes and returned to camps at night.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has said that there are no forced labor or detention camps for ethnic minorities.
“We hope that certain people in the United States can remove their tinted glasses, properly understand and objectively and rationally see normal economic and trade cooperation between Chinese and American companies,” the ministry said in a statement.
All detainees are graduates
In December last year, the Xinjiang authorities announced that the camps had closed and that all detainees had “graduated,” but this is difficult to verify given the extensive surveillance and restrictions on reporting from the region. Some Uighurs and Kazakh APs said their relatives had been released, but many others said their relatives were still detained, sentenced to prison terms or transferred to forced labor in factories.
While tariffs and embargoes are relatively common for political reasons, the US government extremely rarely detains imports of forced labor,
The Tariff Act of 1930 banned such imports, but the US government used it only 54 times in 90 years. 75% of the ban has applied to Chinese goods, and the law has been enforced more and more since 2016, when it was strengthened by then-President Barack Obama.
Chris Smith, a member of the House of Representatives, said that while the allegations of forced labor were horrific, “unfortunately they are not surprising”.
“It is very likely that many other products produced by slave labor continue to secretly end up in our shops,” said Smith, who is actively fighting human trafficking.
In 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, which condemned “gross human rights abuses against certain ethnic Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region of China.”
Speaking at a call for a law, Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned China’s mass imprisonment, forced sterilization and repression of journalists.
“Beijing’s barbaric actions against the Uighurs are an insult to the world’s collective conscience,” the speaker said.