Maine colleges pull sportswear from shelves over supplier's alleged ties to slave labor


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    BANGOR (BDN) -- Colleges in Maine have pulled sportswear from shelves in bookstores and online that they purchased from a North Carolina-based company linked to a factory in China said to use forced labor for manufacturing.

    The Associated Press reported Monday that it had tracked recent, ongoing shipments from a factory inside an internment camp in western China to Badger Sportswear, a leading sporting apparel supplier in Statesville, North Carolina. Such imports are illegal in the United States.

    Badger’s CEO John Anton told the Associated Press that the company would source sportswear elsewhere while it investigates the situation.

    Badger sells to a large number of universities throughout the United States, including at least four colleges and universities in Maine, which had advertised online that they sell Badger products in their campus bookstores or on their websites. They are Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Bates College in Lewiston, Colby College in Waterville and the University of Maine in Orono.

    The company states in an online notice that less than 1 percent of its product come from the factory alleged to be inside an internment camp, Hetian Taida Apparel Co. It said it requires all suppliers to follow its global sourcing policy, and it has zero tolerance for violations.

    “We immediately suspended ordering product from Hetian Taida and its affiliates while an investigation is conducted. We will not ship to customers any product in our possession from that facility,” it said.

    Bookstores including Bowdoin buy clothing from suppliers who have a code of conduct.

    “We have suspended all sales of Badger products in our store and on our website,” Bowdoin spokesman Doug Cook said. “About 1 percent of our total sales were Badger products.” The store sold Badger T-shirts, shorts and sweatshirts.

    Cook said the boxes the store receives only show country of origin, not the factory, so the Badger products could not be traced specifically to the Hetian Taida factory.

    “Our local representative said none of the products sold at our store were sourced from that factory,” he said.

    In the past year, the bookstore at the University of Maine carried five Badger Sportswear items: a hoodie, pants, jacket and two T-shirts.

    “In light of recent allegations regarding Badger that have been reported in the media, and in keeping with UMaine’s fair labor practices policies, these five products were removed as bookstore sales items as of Dec. 18,” DIck Young, associate executive director or auxiliary services at the university, said in an email to the BDN.

    “The University of Maine is an affiliate of the Fair Labor Association and requires all licensees to be FLA affiliates, and meet any and all obligations of maintaining this affiliation, including adherence to the FLA Code of Conduct,” he said.

    He said that UMaine through its licensing agent, Learfield Licensing Partners, requires all licensees to disclose any and all manufacturers use to produce University of Maine products.

    Bates College, the only Maine College mentioned in the Associated Press story, also pulled its Badger products.

    “Upon learning that certain Badger Sport products were being manufactured under extreme and inhumane conditions, we have pulled all Badger Sport merchandise from our shelves pending further investigation,” said college spokeswoman Marjorie Hall.

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