US federal authorities have seized a shipment of products made from human hair believed to have been taken from Muslims in labor camps in China’s western Xinjiang province.
Customs and Border Protection officials said that 13 tons (11.8 metric tonnes) of weaves and other hair products worth an estimated $800,000 were in the shipment.
“The production of these goods constitutes a very serious human rights violation, and the detention order is intended to send a clear and direct message to all entities seeking to do business with the United States that illicit and inhumane practices will not be tolerated in US supply chains,” said Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s office of trade.
This is the second time this year that CBP has slapped a rare detention order on shipments of hair products from China, based on suspicions that people making them face human rights abuses.
Rushan Abbas, a Uighur American activist whose sister went missing in China almost two years ago and is believed to be locked in a detention camp, said women who use hair weaves should think about who might be making them.
“This is so heartbreaking for us,” she said. “I want people to think about the slavery people are experiencing today. My sister is sitting somewhere being forced to make what, hair pieces?”
Wednesday’s shipment was made by Lop County Meixin Hair Product Co Ltd. In May, a similar detention was placed on Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories Co Ltd, although those weaves were synthetic, not human, the agency said.
Both of the exporters are in China’s far west Xinjiang region, where, over the past four years, the government has detained an estimated 1 million or more ethnic Turkic minorities.
Detainees are held in internment camps and prisons where they are subjected to ideological discipline, forced to denounce their religion and language and physically abused. China has long suspected the Uighurs, who are mostly Muslim, of harboring separatist tendencies because of their distinct culture, language and religion.
Reports by 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 clothing for popular US brands.
The Chinese ministry of affairs has said there is no forced labor, nor detention of ethnic minorities.
Xinjiang authorities announced in December that the camps had closed and all the detainees had “graduated”, a claim difficult to corroborate independently given tight surveillance and restrictions on reporting in the region.
Some Uighurs and Kazakhs have told the AP that their relatives have been released, but many others say their loved ones remain in detention, were sentenced to prison or were transferred to forced labor in factories.