The US has banned several big Chinese companies from exporting tons of human hair that has been flooding into America amid concerns it has been sourced from ethnic minorities being held in China’s notorious internment camps.
The human hair – also known as ‘black gold’ – industry raked in more than $2.5billion for the United States economy in 2018, according to research company Mintel. The vast majority of hair products come from Asia, with the bulk coming from China, CNN reports.
But the hair has been found to be supplied from manufacturers that allegedly used forced labor, located in the country’s far western region of Xinjiang. The area is currently where 2million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been held in detention camps since 2016, rights groups claim.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained a shipment of weaves believed to be made in a Chinese detention camp in June
There are currently 2million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities being held in detention camps in the region since 2016
In September, US Customs and Border Protection announced a Withhold Release Order (WRO) on any incoming shipments of hair from the Lop County Hair Product Industrial Park in Xinjiang.
Two earlier WROs had been issued for companies in the same region. Those include a June seizure of hair from Lop County Mrixin Hair Products and Heitan Haolin Hair Accessories in May.
The Information Office of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region expressed ‘severe condemnation’ regarding the ‘barbaric act’ against ‘private enterprises’ that ‘provide opportunities for local ethnic minority people to achieve employment and help get rid of poverty.’
The human hair – also known as ‘black gold’ – industry raked in more than $2.5billion for the United States economy in 2018
Field operations officers with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspect a suspect hair accessory at a centralized exam station in Newark, N.J
A new U.S. bill, the ‘Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act’, passed in the House of Representatives on September 22. The bill puts the burden of responsibility on manufacturers to prove that forced labor is not present in their supply chains.
Wang Wenbin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said that ‘China is strongly indignant and opposed’ to the bill which ‘maliciously smears the human rights situation in Xinjiang.’
Back in June, federal authorities in New York on seized 13 tons of weaves and other beauty accessories suspected to be made out of human hair taken from people locked inside a Chinese internment camp.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said that the 13 tons (11.8 metric tonnes) of hair products were worth an estimated $800,000.
The 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. Hetian Haolin’s products were imported by Os Hair in Duluth, Georgia, and I & I Hair, headquartered in Dallas. I & I’s weaves are sold under the Innocence brand to salons and individuals around the U.S.
The ethnic minorities are held in internment camps and prisons where they are subjected to ideological discipline, forced to denounce their religion and language and physically abused. Members of the Uyghur community in Turkey protest the Chinese government
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.
The ethnic minorities 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 apparel for popular U.S. brands.
The AP tried to visit Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories Co. more than a year ago during an investigation into forced labor inside the camps. But police called the cab driver taking AP journalists to the area, ordering the driver to turn back and warning that the cab’s coordinates were being tracked.
Back in June, federal authorities in New York on seized 13 tons of weaves and other beauty accessories
From the road, it was clear the factory – topped with ‘Haolin Hair Accessories’ in big red letters – was ringed with barbed wire fencing and surveillance cameras, and the entrance was blocked by helmeted police. Across the street, what appeared to be an educational facility was topped with political slogans declaring ‘the country has power’ and urging people to obey the Communist Party. It was unclear whether the factory was part of a detention center, but former detainees in other parts of Xinjiang have described being shuttled to work in fenced, guarded compounds during the day and taken back to internment camps at night.
The Chinese Ministry of Affairs has said there is no forced labor, nor detention of ethnic minorities.
‘We hope that certain people in the United States can take off their tinted glasses, correctly understand and objectively and rationally view normal economic and trade cooperation between Chinese and American enterprises,’ the ministry said in a statement.
Last December, Xinjiang authorities announced 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 said that their relatives have been released, but many others say their loved ones remain in detention, were sentenced to prison or transferred to forced labor in factories.
While tariffs and embargoes over political issues are fairly common, it’s extremely rare for the U.S. government to block imports produced by forced labor.
The 1930 Tariff Act prohibited those imports, but the government has only enforced the law 54 times in the past 90 years. Most of those bans, 75%, blocked goods from China, and enforcement has ramped up since then-President Barack Obama strengthened the law in 2016.
Ethnic minorities forced to recite the Chinese anthem and cut their hair in ‘political educational schools’ and forced labor camps
Several former Xinjiang residents describe disturbing scenes and conditions at the camps they were held in, with many forced to endure tedious tasks aimed at assimilating them into Chinese culture.
Yerzhan Kurman, who is ethnically Kazakh, was taken into a ‘political educational school’ when he went to visit his mother in 2018.
‘They came in the middle of the night and took me to the camp,’ the 42-year-old told CNN. ‘They handcuffed us, put a bag over our head.’
Kurman described being placed in a cell with nine other men, having to use a shared bucket as a toilet. Cameras monitored the group, who were not allowed to talk to each other. Those needing to use the bucket, had to ask for permission. He said that punishment consisted of them being denied food and made to stand upright all night.
Kurman also said that the group got in trouble if they refused to sing the Chinese national anthem up to seven times a day. Their detentions would be extended if they failed Chinese language tests, as well.
Gulzira Auelkhan, another former resident who is Kazakh, said that she was thrown into a camp in 2017 after returning to the region from Kazakhstan to visit her family.
‘Cameras monitored us everywhere,’ she said. ‘If we cried they would handcuff us, if we moved they would also handcuff us.’
Auelkhan added: ‘They would allow us to go to the toilet for two minutes only. If anyone exceeded that time, they would hit us with electric sticks.’
She claims authorities told her that she ‘came from a terrorist country,’ adding that they needed to ‘cut my hair. Took my blood samples.’
A number of women told CNN that they had had their hair forcibly removed.
‘They cut our hair off, made us bald,’ shared Gulbakhar Jalilova, an ethnic Uyghur from Kazakhstan. She now lives in Istanbul after escaping from the camps. ‘Everything was gone. Nothing. I had long hair.’
Zumrat Dawut, an ethnic Uyghur now living in D.C., shared a similar survival story.
‘I had long hair, all the way to my hips,’ Dawut said. ‘On the second day, they took me to a separate office, where they had a tray with a machine and scissors, and they cut my hair.’
She said that ‘everyone’s hair was cut short,’ making many of the women ‘sad and stressed.’ Dawut was unsure of what happened to the hair but she has ‘heart aches’ when she sees Chinese hair products in American stores.
It is unknown what happens to the hair taken from the women but industry experts say that the high value of human hair means that the large quantities are unlikely discarded.
They pointed out, however, that the quantities make up such a small portion of the hair needed for a stable supply chain.
China imports hair from India, Malaysia and several other countries in the region.