The Trump Administration is blocking shipments from a Chinese company making baby pajamas sold at Costco warehouses, after the foreign manufacturer was accused of forcing ethnic minorities locked in an internment camp to sew clothes against their will.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Oct. 1 slapped rare detention orders on goods imported from an unprecedented five countries in one day based on allegations that people producing those items might be children, or adults subjected to forced labor. The orders are used to hold shipping containers at the U.S. ports of entry until the agency can investigate the claims of wrongdoing.
One major case from last week involves China’s Hetian Taida Apparel, which AP reported last year was forcing Uigher Muslims and other ethnic minorities to sew clothes for U.S. importers inside a Chinese re-education camp.
This was one of a growing number of internment camps in China’s far western Xinjiang region, where by some estimates 1 million Muslims are politically indoctrinated while detained and forced to give up their language and their religion. The Washington-based
Worker Rights Consortium published further evidence this year that Hetian Taida was doing business both inside a camp, and at nearby state-subsidized factories where detainees are sent once they are released.
In response, Hetian Taida’s U.S. buyer Badger Sportswear, in Statesville, North Carolina, cut off imports and Hetian Taida stopped exporting to the U.S., according to records published by ImportGenius, which tracks shipping activity around the world.
But last month, Costco Wholesale Corp. began importing baby pajamas made by the company. On September 21, 2019 and again on Sept. 26, 2019, Hetian Taida sent shipping containers filled with 100% polyester blanket sleepers for babies and toddlers to the U.S., labeled for Costco, according to shipping records.
In an interview with the AP, Costco officials said “we believe (the baby sleepers) were made in a factory other than the one that was the subject of the CBP detention order. As the facts develop, we’re prepared to consider what action we should take relative to the issue of a supplier to our supplier owning factories that may have problems.”
As of last weekend, the microfleece, zippered pajamas, sold under the label Absorba, were seen by an AP reporter on some Costco shelves in packs of two, for $14.99.
Scott Nova, executive director of Worker Rights Consortium, said he was shocked that Costco agreed to do business with a firm already associated with China’s re-education camps. “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,” said Nova.
Reached by phone on Monday, Hetian Taida Chairman Wu Hongbo told the AP that the company will cooperate with U.S. Customs and provide the agency with any documents it needs. Wu declined to answer further questions and said he has chosen to reject all media interview requests.