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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.

What's happening: On June 17, CBP issued a withhold release order for Lop County Meixin Hair Product Co. Ltd. in southern Xinjiang requiring U.S. ports of entry to detain any shipments from that company to the U.S.

  • CBP officials at the Port of New York/Newark subsequently detained the shipment of Meixin Hair Product goods, which included wigs and other human hair products.
  • A withhold release order indicates CBP has uncovered strong evidence linking those products to forced labor.
  • Once their goods are seized, the importing company is given the opportunity to provide proof that the products are not made with forced labor.

What they're saying: “The production of these goods constitutes a very serious human rights violation, and the detention order is intended to send a clear and direct message to all entities seeking to do business with the United States that illicit and inhumane practices will not be tolerated in U.S. supply chains," Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of the CBP Office of Trade, said in a statement.

  • “If this highly suspicious, 13-ton shipment of human hair indeed turns out to be linked to the Uighur concentration camps, then this is a new low — even for the Chinese Communist Party — and they will have to answer to the world community for their actions,” National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot tells Axios.
  • The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. did not respond to a request for comment.

Background: The Chinese government has instituted forced labor on a mass scale as part of its campaign to subjugate and forcibly assimilate Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities.

  • More than a million Uighurs have been detained in a string of concentration camps in Xinjiang.
  • Some former detainees are sent to work in factories, where they are under tight surveillance and may be forced to attend indoctrination sessions.
  • Numerous female survivors have said women's heads were shaved when they were admitted to the camps.

The big picture: Trump administration officials have repeatedly condemned China's repression of Uighurs, though President Trump himself has downplayed it.

  • The National Security Council has placed a strong focus on China's treatment of Uighurs and hired a Uighur-American to serve as a China director at the council.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Oct 6, 2020 - World

Exclusive: Top German official hushed up report on China’s influence

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A high-ranking German official suppressed a sensitive intelligence report in 2018 on China’s growing influence in Germany out of fear it would damage business ties with China, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Business interests have long shaped Germany’s relationship with China, to the detriment of human rights concerns and even national security. 

Ina Fried, author of Login
Oct 6, 2020 - Technology

Labor Department probes Microsoft's diversity policy

Photo: Aleksander Kalka/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Labor Department has been probing whether Microsoft's goal of increasing Black representation in its ranks constitutes racial discrimination, the software maker disclosed Tuesday. In a blog post, Microsoft says it believes it is complying with all applicable laws.

Why it matters: The Labor Department move comes as the Trump administration is also trying to use an executive order to block government contractors from offering certain types of diversity training.

Biden explains justification for Syria strike in letter to Congress

Photo: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden told congressional leadership in a letter Saturday that this week's airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to Iranian-backed militia groups was consistent with the U.S. right to self-defense.

Why it matters: Some Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), have criticized the Biden administration for the strike and demanded a briefing.