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World

Minorities In Chinese Internment Camps Forced To Sew Clothes for U.S. Brand

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Associated Press is reporting that the Chinese government is forcing ethnic minorities to work in factories, some that produce clothing for an American athletic brand. The AP tracked shipments of clothing to Badger Sportswear, a large supplier of athletic apparel to college sports teams. The company says it will stop taking clothing from those factories as it investigates. This AP report is part of a larger investigation into the growing number of internment camps in China. Dake Kang is one of the reporters on this story, and I called him in Beijing earlier for a breakdown of his reporting.

So first can you just describe for us what these internment camps are? I mean, who is the Chinese government sending there, and what is the purported reason?

DAKE KANG: So basically Xinjiang has kind of indigenous ethnic minorities that are predominantly Muslim.

CHANG: The Uyghurs.

KANG: And Kazakhs.

CHANG: OK.

KANG: And what they're trying to do with these internment camps is what they say is try to bring them into the modern world. But, you know, detainees themselves say that they can be detained for things like having smartphone applications that aren't subject to government surveillance...

CHANG: Wow.

KANG: ...You know, having prayer mats in their homes, behaviors the government has somehow deemed a sign of religious extremism.

CHANG: And how did you find out that people sent to these camps were being put to work in factories?

KANG: Yeah, so this is interesting. The Chinese government published this 15-minute-long CCTV report basically portraying these internment camps as being vocational training centers. And that was kind of the first hint that there was something up.

CHANG: If this is job training as the Chinese government labels it, have you met anyone who actually needs this job training, who would actually be able to make use of it? I mean, in some of these cases, the workers are not being paid at all, right?

KANG: Exactly. You know, one woman I interviewed - her daughter was actually a vocational college graduate. Last she heard, her daughter was working in one of these factories for no pay, and she had to meet a daily quota.

CHANG: This is a white-collar professional now being forced to work in a textile factory.

KANG: That's exactly right.

CHANG: I want to get to how you guys traced the supply chain after product moved out of these factories. I mean, we should note that it is illegal in the U.S. to import products made with forced labor. A supply chain is considered tainted if even one item is made from forced labor from what I understand. So how did you track shipments from these camps to Badger Sportswear, which is based in North Carolina, right?

KANG: So the initial clue was that there's actually state media reports which show a Badger employee actually accepting a television interview inside basically an internment camp. So that was an initial hint. And we basically matched the CCTV segment with satellite imagery. And having all of this in mind when we went there and saw the place on the ground, I already kind of knew what I was looking for.

CHANG: Wow, fascinating. So because you couldn't enter any of these factories, you haven't been given admission to any of these internment camps, you're basing this knowledge about what conditions are like in these factories on mostly interviews with either former detainees or relatives of current detainees. Is that correct?

KANG: Well, that's one part of it. But the other part of it is we actually saw two of these internment camps from the outside. They don't look like normal factories. They look like prisons. There is double barbed wire fencing, and there's posters lining it. They say things like learn to be grateful. Learn to be an upright person. There are surveillance cameras everywhere. As I was filming out of the car as we were passing by this facility, they spotted my camera. And they were yelling at us for us to stop, so we had to stop, and then we were detained.

CHANG: Wow. You were detained and interrogated about your purpose.

KANG: I mean, this is very common in Xinjiang. You're followed everywhere when you go as a foreign reporter - to your hotel room, in cars, in taxis, to the airport, on the train, everywhere. They are that paranoid.

CHANG: Dake Kang, AP reporter in Beijing, thank you very much for your reporting.

KANG: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.