The weave and wig business is more than a $2 billion global industry and China is a major player, but its harvesting process is often under scrutiny.
In a U.S. crackdown on several Chinese companies that export human hair, the Feds in early July confiscated 13 tons of illegal weave being smuggled from China. The hair products, which were shipped from China to the port of New York and New Jersey, are worth an estimated $800,000, The New York Post reported.
The human hair industry is so lucrative that the product is often called “black gold,” and the hair comes from ethnic minorities locked inside China’s internment camps, The New York Post reported.
The majority of imported Chinese hair comes from manufacturers in the country’s Xinjiang region, a region where 2 million Uyghurs, mainly Muslim and ethnic minorities, have been detained since 2016. The Feds believe the confiscated hair was from this region. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection service said the products may have indicated “potential human rights abuses of forced child labor and imprisonment.”
As part of a month-long investigation by CNN, the network found inmates who said they were tortured and abused at the camps. Along with electrocution, intrusive medical examinations, and forced sterilizations, the inmates said their heads were shaved.
Reports by Associated Press and several other news organizations have repeatedly found that people inside the internment camps, which activists call “black factories,” are producing sportswear and other apparel for well-known U.S. brands, The Jerusalem Post reported.
China has continually denied accusations of forced labor or detention of ethnic minorities.
According to Chinese officials, the nearly 400 camps “are re-education camps established in order to counter terrorism and Islamist extremism.” China calls them Vocational Education and Training Centers, but this is far from a true representation of what they are, according to reports.
“Instead, available evidence suggests that many extrajudicial detainees in Xinjiang’s vast ‘re-education’ network are now being formally charged and locked up in higher security facilities, including newly built or expanded prisons, or sent to walled factory compounds for coerced labor assignments,” said Nathan Ruser, author of a report on the camps by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in a BBC report.
In 2019, there were an estimated 3 million detainees in China’s internment camps, according to Randall G. Schriver, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, Reuters reported.
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Black women are heavy consumers of human hair wigs and weaves. In fact, the business of hair extensions is booming in the Black community, according to Tiffany Gill, associate professor of history at Rutgers University and author of the book “Beauty Shop Politics.” The U.S. Black haircare market was estimated to be worth more than $2.5 billion in 2018 by research company Mintel.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is now refusing exports of human hair from the Xinjiang region to enter the country.
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