A report released on Tuesday states that Chinese products made by an organization linked to the mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang may have reached US stores and consumers.
The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps is a huge government and paramilitary organization interested in many industries, and it conducts a number of protest camps and prisons where the Muslim minority is confined. BuzzFeed News last month saw China build the capacity to capture more than 10 million people in the region at any moment.
In order to counter the threat to social stability, the Chinese government has in the past formulated detention campaigns as a professional development or education program. But the United States and other governments have called it genocide. Last July, the United States imposed sanctions on the so-called XPCC bingtuan In Chinese, as well as the two officials involved, it mentions “their connection to serious human rights violations against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.”
The move effectively makes it illegal for anyone in the United States to do business with XPCC and makes it more difficult for the organization to work with other countries. But a new, Washington, DC-based nonprofit study found that many of XPCC’s affiliates continue to export products around the world. The report found that some consumer goods made with those products, such as tomato sauce or textiles, are sold in the United States as well as other countries such as Australia, Canada and Germany.
C4ADS, a group that reports on global conflicts and security, identifies XPCC’s 2,92 subsidiaries and uses business filings, trade records and postings on Chinese cotton industry trading sites to investigate their business activities.
The group observed that a Russian company called Grand Star manufactures tomato products and sauces under the Kubanochka brand. Two XPCC subsidiaries, Xinjiang Guanang Tomato Products and Xinjiang Wanda Co., have sent more than 150 tomato paste to Grand Star.
The report reveals companies that bought goods from Xinjiang and shipped them elsewhere, but trade data does not specify whether certain banned items have arrived in the United States. So it’s hard to know if the same tomatoes imported from Xinjiang were shipped to the U.S., but it’s clear that Kubanochka branded tomato products are sold in the U.S., including international food stores. Grand Star did not respond to a request for comment.
C4ADS also observed that at least three XPCC subsidiaries sell XPCC cotton, despite being part of the Better Cotton Initiative, a global industry recognition program that says it encourages ethical sourcing of cotton products. The Better Cotton Initiative declined to comment on whether the company’s activities conflicted with its policy.
One of Xiamen ITG’s three subsidiaries is a supply chain management company worth about 14 billion yuan. According to official trade data compiled by Panjiva, Xiamen ITG and its own affiliates have provided a small and large North American retailer, including Walmart Canada and Ohio-based company MMI Textiles, a military supplier that also supplies hospital safety equipment. Xiamen ITG sent two shipments of polyester and cotton fabric to MMI in 201 pol, trade data shows, before the United States began the Xinjiang cotton blockade. Asked about the shipment, Nick Rivera, chief operating officer of MMI Textiles, said it had stopped working with the firm in January 2019 and that MMI “had trouble knowing the details you described in your query.”
Founded in 1954 – just five years after the ruling Communist Party took power in China – the XPCC focused primarily on resettling Han Chinese immigrants in the Xinjiang region, the historical home of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups. According to a study published by Yajun Bao at Oxford University, about 86% of current XPCC members are Han Chinese. XPCC is so powerful that Bao and other scholars have described it as a parallel role to the Xinjiang regional government, with interests ranging from cotton cultivation to television and radio. XPCC has thousands of subsidiaries and makes up up to 21% of the region’s production, including manufacturing.
Irina Bukharin, lead researcher on the C4ADS report, said, “XPCC is the primary culprit of mass detention and forced labor in Xinjiang and has a broad economic footprint.” “It’s also approved, so it’s important to understand how it relates to the global economy, how sanctions and other measures targeting forced labor in the region are declining.”
In January, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it would seize all tomato and cotton products imported from Xinjiang. C4ADS, however, found that both types of products could be made in the United States, including travel to third countries. XPCC is the largest producer of cotton in China and a major player in the tomato industry.
Stopping shipments from the region is not always a clean process, as XPCC companies often sell their products in other parts of China or through middle companies in other countries. Customs and Border Protection Officer Anna Hinojosa told BuzzFeed News that the difficulty in obtaining information about Xinjiang’s companies has created a challenge for U.S. regulators.
“XPCC is the superpower of an organization. It has many subsidiaries and they move and change frequently, ”said Hinojosa, executive director of the CBP for Trade Remedies. “Keeping track of them is hard work.”
“I think there are probably some products coming to the United States that we are not yet aware of that are affiliated with XPCC.”
XPCC did not respond to a request for comment.