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Image: via Bloomberg

Your “Made in China” apparel may have been made by men and women locked in a mass detention camp. That was the message sent this week after American media uncovered that apparel orders made by North Carolina-based Badger Sportswear were quietly being fulfilled by prisoners in internment camps on the Chinese mainland and then entering into the global supply chain.

According to the Associated Press, the camp in Hotan, China, which was responsible for making the Hetian Taida Apparel garments shipped to Badger Sportswear, “is one of a growing number of internment camps in the Xinjiang region, where by some estimates 1 million Muslims are detained, and subjected to political indoctrination and ‘re-education.’” Such camps come as part of a larger Chinese “detention and re-education campaign, which use checkpoints, GPS tracking and face-scanning cameras for surveillance of ethnic minorities in the region.”

This includes, in at least some cases, being forced to work in manufacturing and food industries.

Hetian Taida Apparel’s chairman Wu Hongbo confirmed that the company does, in fact, maintain a factory inside a “re-education” compound, and said they provide employment to individuals who have been deemed by the Chinese government to be “unproblematic.”

While Mr. Wu characterizes the work as “a contribution to eradicating poverty,” reports from the factories reveal that many individuals are being forced to work without any pay and are “being treated like slaves.”

This is just the latest demonstration of the fact that not only do most consumers not know where their clothing – and other purchased goods – actually came from, many brands do not really know either. The revelations come less than after consultant Peter Humphrey – who was jailed in Qingpu Prison just outside of Shanghai for two and a half years before he was deported from China – spoke out about his time being incarcerated in China.

As Humphrey told the Financial Times in February, “The prison was a business, doing manufacturing jobs for companies. Mornings, afternoons and often during the after-lunch nap, prisoners ‘labored’ in the common room. Our men made packaging parts. I recognized well-known brands, including [but not limited to] C&A and H&M. So much for corporate social responsibility.”

Spokesmen for H&M and C&A both said they had “not observed or been made aware of the use of prison labor” in their expansive and complex Chinese supply chains.

Humphrey further noted that the companies sourcing their products from factories housed in the prison “may well have been unaware that prison labor was part of their supply chain.”

The AP notes that these instances, including the one involving Badger Sportswear, “show how difficult it is to stop products made with forced labor from getting into the global supply chain, even though such imports are illegal in the U.S,” where legislation enables authorities to block imports that are suspected to have been made by way of convict labor from entering into the U.S.

*The article has been updated to reflect quotes attributable to the AP, as opposed to Badger Sportswear’s CEO John Anton.