On Wednesday, federal authorities in New York seized a shipment of fabrics and other beauty accessories suspected of being made from human hair taken from people locked inside a Chinese internment camp.
US Customs and Border Protection officials told The Associated Press that there were 13 tons (11.8 metric tons) of hair products worth an estimated $ 800,000 in the shipment.
“The production of these goods constitutes a very serious violation of human rights, and the arrest warrant is intended to send a clear and direct message to all entities seeking to do business with the United States that unlawful practices will not be tolerated. and inhumane in supplying the US. chains, “said Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of the CBP Bureau of Commerce.
This is the second time this year that CBP slaps one of its rare arrest warrants on shipments of hair tissue from China due to suspicions that the people making them face human rights abuses. The orders are used to hold shipping containers at US ports of entry until the agency can investigate irregularity claims.
Rushan Abbas, an American Uighur activist whose sister, a medical doctor, went missing in China nearly two years ago and is believed to be locked in a detention camp, said women who wear hair fabrics should think about who might be manufacturing.
“This is very heartbreaking for us,” he said. “I want people to think about the slavery that people are experiencing today. My sister is sitting somewhere forced to do what, hairstyles?”
Wednesday’s shipment was made by Lop County Meixin Hair Product Co. Ltd. In May, a similar arrest was made at Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories Co. Ltd., although those fabrics were synthetic, not human, the agency said. Hetian Haolin’s products were imported by Os Hair in Duluth, Georgia, and Dallas-based I & I Hair. I&I fabrics are sold under the Innocence brand to salons and individuals across the U.S.
Both exporters are in the Xinjiang region in the far west of China, where the government has detained one million or more Turkish ethnic minorities in the past four years.
Ethnic minorities are held in internment camps and prisons, where they are subjected to ideological discipline, forced to denounce their religion and language, and suffer physical abuse. China has long suspected that the mostly Muslim Uighurs harbor separatist tendencies due to their distinct culture, language and religion.
Reports from the AP and other news organizations have repeatedly found that people inside the internment camps and prisons, which activists call “black factories,” are making sportswear and other apparel for popular US brands.
The AP attempted to visit Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories Co. more than a year ago during an investigation into forced labor within the camps. But police called the taxi driver to take AP journalists to the area, ordering the driver to return, and warned that the coordinates of the taxi were being tracked.
From the road, it was clear that the factory, crowned with “Haolin Hair Accessories” in large red letters, was surrounded by barbed wire fences and surveillance cameras, and the entrance was blocked by helmeted police. Across the street, what appeared to be an educational facility was capped with political slogans declaring “the country has power” and urging people to obey the Communist Party. It was unclear if the factory was part of a detention center, but former detainees in other parts of Xinjiang have described being transferred to work in fenced and guarded facilities during the day and taken back to internment camps at night.
The Chinese Ministry of Affairs said there is no forced labor or detention of ethnic minorities.
“We hope that certain people in the United States will be able to remove polarized glasses, properly understand and objectively and rationally view normal economic and trade cooperation between Chinese and American companies,” the ministry said in a statement.
Last December, Xinjiang authorities announced that the camps had closed and that all detainees had “graduated”, a claim difficult to independently substantiate given the strict vigilance and reporting restrictions in the region. Some Uyghurs and Kazakhs told AP that their relatives were released, but many others say that their loved ones remain in detention, were sentenced to prison, or transferred to forced labor in factories.
While tariffs and political embargoes are fairly common, it is extremely rare for the US government to block imports from forced labor.
The Tariff Act of 1930 prohibited those imports, but the government has only applied the law 54 times in the past 90 years. Most of those bans, 75%, blocked China’s products, and enforcement has increased since then-President Barack Obama strengthened the law in 2016.
Representative Chris Smith said that while the allegations of forced labor are heinous, “unfortunately they are not surprising.”
“Many slave labor products are likely to continue to sneak into our stores,” said Smith, a Republican from New Jersey who has taken the lead in anti-trafficking legislation.
On June 17, President Donald Trump signed the bi-partisan Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, condemning “serious human rights violations by specific Muslim minority ethnic groups in the Xinjiang region of China.”
Earlier, asking for her approval, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi denounced what she described as China’s mass incarceration, forced sterilization and journalistic repression.
“Beijing’s barbaric actions directed at the Uighur people are a scandal to the world’s collective conscience,” it said in a statement.