Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A China-based supplier of clothing items to U.S. construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar participates in a coercive labor program known as "Xinjiang Aid," according to documents and evidence reviewed by Axios.

Why it matters: It is against U.S. federal law to import products made through forced labor.

What's happening: Summit Resource International, the exclusive wholesaler of Caterpillar-branded men’s and women’s clothing to retail, received multiple shipments of tens of thousands of pounds of Triton jackets and Trademark trousers from Xinjiang Ainuoxin Garment Co. and Jinan Ainuoxin Garment Co. between August 2019 and June 2020, according to research compiled by Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor monitoring organization, and reviewed by Axios.

  • These two factories participate in Xinjiang Aid, a Chinese government labor transfer scheme that has been widely denounced by researchers and human rights groups as coerced labor and a forced assimilation campaign targeting Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority.
  • It's difficult to trace whether Uighurs working at the factories were directly involved in the production of Caterpillar-branded clothing.

"Caterpillar’s decision to continue sourcing from Xinjiang is a display of gross irresponsibility," said Penelope Kyritsis, assistant research director at Worker Rights Consortium.

What they're saying: "We do not condone and strive to eliminate all forms of forced labor, child labor, and discrimination in the workplace," Caterpillar has said in its online statement on human rights.

  • "Caterpillar believes the risk of modern slavery is low in its operations and those of its direct suppliers," the company has said.
  • "Caterpillar currently does not utilize a third party in its verification process. We also do not currently perform on-site audits for social compliance," the online statement read. Caterpillar instead asks its suppliers to perform self-assessments.
  • The company declined to provide further comment.

Background: Xinjiang Ainuoxin Garment Co. is located in Yarkant County in southern Xinjiang, where the Chinese Communist Party has rounded up hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and kept them in mass internment camps, eventually transferring some into forced labor facilities under the guise of "alleviating poverty."

  • The Xinjiang Aid program takes former detainees, as well as Uighurs from surrounding villages, and puts them to work in factories where they are often subject to political indoctrination, Chinese language classes (part of a region-wide effort to weaken Uighur cultural identity through reducing their reliance on the Uighur language), and extremely tight surveillance under the constant supervision of security guards.
  • Tens of thousands of workers have been separated from their families and sent to work in factories in distant provinces under similar conditions.

Details: The Yarkant County Poverty Alleviation and Development Office stated on July 2, 2019, that the local Chinese Communist Party secretary helped bring in Xinjiang Ainuoxin Garment Co. as part of the county's "poverty alleviation" program, according to a document provided to Axios by Adrian Zenz, a leading expert on Xinjiang mass detention camps and forced labor policies. The document mentions Mandarin classes and strict discipline.

  • Subsidies: Xinjiang Ainuoxin Garment Co. is included on a list of companies receiving subsidies for their participation in Xinjiang Aid, according to a notice issued by the Yarkant County government.
Screenshot of a list of companies receiving subsidies through Xinjiang Aid in Yarkant County.
  • Labor transfers: Xinjiang Ainuoxin has also engaged in labor transfers, according to official media reports.
  • The village committee "coordinated with the factory to obtain training opportunities inland, and organized 15 female employees to study sewing techniques in Jinan, Shandong," according to a November 2018 report from a Kashgar radio station.

The big picture: Many state media reports cast Xinjiang Aid as a benevolent program focused on poverty alleviation and skills training, featuring quotes from grateful Uighurs.

  • But "the reality is drastically different from what is described in state media," said Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, the lead author of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute report "Uyghurs for Sale," in an interview with Axios.
  • The program "isn’t designed for the benefit of the Uighurs," said Xu, but is rather intended to achieve state objectives through total surveillance and threat of detention in Xinjiang's ubiquitous internment camps for anyone who pushes back.
  • And sadly, the Han employees at factories participating in Xinjiang Aid often don't see any problem, said Xu. "It says so much about systemic Han racism against Uighurs."

Go deeper: The U.S. has the tools to fight Uighur forced labor

Go deeper

Scoop: U.S. seizes $800,000 shipment of Xinjiang products made with human hair

Photo credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers detained a shipment of almost 13 tons of wigs and other human hair products suspected of being made through forced labor in Xinjiang, China, U.S. government officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: Importing products made with forced labor into the U.S. is illegal. But it's extremely difficult to trace U.S. supply chains back to factories in Xinjiang that use forced labor, making this a rare event.

Updated 9 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Mary Trump book: How she leaked Trump financials to NYT

Simon & Schuster

In her new memoir, President Trump's niece reveals how she leaked hordes of confidential Trump family financial documents to the New York Times in an effort to expose her uncle, whom she portrays as a dangerous sociopath.

Why it matters: Trump was furious when he found out recently that Mary Trump, a trained psychologist, would be publishing a tell-all memoir. And Trump's younger brother, Robert, tried and failed to block the publication of "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man."

Updated 20 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 11,691,068 — Total deaths: 540,062 — Total recoveries — 6,349,542Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 2,963,244 — Total deaths: 130,813 — Total recoveries: 924,148 — Total tested: 36,225,015Map.
  3. 2020: Biden releases plan to strengthen coronavirus supply chain.
  4. Congress: Trump administration notifies Congress of intent to withdraw from WHO.
  5. Public health: Fauci says it's a "false narrative" to take comfort in lower coronavirus death rate.
  6. World: Brazil's President Bolsonaro tests positive— India reports third-highest case count in the world.