Products suspected of using human hair from people in Chinese internment camps seized by U.S. Customs

Chinese flag.
(Image credit: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

In the latest sign of forced labor inside Chinese internment camps, U.S. Customs and Border Protection in New York on Wednesday seized a 13-ton shipment of weaves and other beauty accessories suspected to be made out of human hair taken from people inside the camps, The Associated Press reports.

It's the second time this year the CBP has placed a detention order on hair weave shipments from China. Although the agency determined the previous shipment in May contained synthetic rather than human hair, there is mounting suspicion that the products are a result of forced labor. The exporters behind Wednesday's shipment and the one in May are based in Xinjiang where an estimated 1 million or more ethnic Turkic minorities, including the mostly-Muslim Uighurs, have been placed in government detention camps.

"This is so heartbreaking for us," said Rushan Abbas, a Uighur American activist whose sister went missing two years ago in China and is believed to be in a detention camp. "I want people to think about the slavery people are experiencing today. My sister is sitting somewhere being forced to make what, hair pieces?"

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The allegations of forced labor aren't specific to hair or beauty products. News organizations have conducted investigations that repeatedly reveal detainees are directly or indirectly making sportswear and other apparel for popular U.S. brands like Nike and Patagonia.

China has denied the accusations, but U.S. lawmakers are fairly certain about the veracity. "It is likely that many slave labor products continue to surreptitiously make it into our stores," said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.). Read more at The Associated Press.

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Tim O'Donnell

Tim is a staff writer at The Week and has contributed to Bedford and Bowery and The New York Transatlantic. He is a graduate of Occidental College and NYU's journalism school. Tim enjoys writing about baseball, Europe, and extinct megafauna. He lives in New York City.