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Nine Line Apparel discovers supplier using cotton from China's slave labor region

Oct 13, 2023Oct 13, 2023

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Veteran-owned clothing brand, Nine Line Apparel, made a concerning discovery after a test showed one of their suppliers was allegedly using cotton grown in a slave labor region in China.

"We’ve identified one supplier that fell below the standards we expected," Tyler Merritt, the brand's CEO and US Army Special Operations aviation veteran, said in a Youtube video in April. "We decided to return any products purchased from that supplier until further test confirms that all products come from sustainable sources."

The test revealed that cotton allegedly used by Next Level — a wholesaler of blank apparel — was grown in Xinjiang, a northwestern region in China where detained Uyghur Muslims are forced to manufacture goods for cheap in labor camps, according to the US Department of Labor.

Merritt said his brand purchases material from multiple suppliers, but only Next Level's returned positive for cotton grown in the Xinjiang region.

"It's very similar to a DNA test. So, it compares isotopes from a region in Xinjiang, China – This is a region where people are forced to work indefinitely for the simple fact of being born a Muslim," Merritt told Fox & Friends. "what came back consistent with Xinjiang cotton, not once, but a second time that we tested at a different lot, a different batch from a different distribution center came back as being consistent as well."

The Army veteran said he's spoken to the CEO of Next Level and was told the company has a "zero tolerance policy" for forced labor, but did not expand on what that entailed.

Merritt said Next Level's lawyers have consistently told him to "stop testing" and that the company has "got this under control," calling out their pursuit to do their own testing "unacceptable."

"Forced labor is considered a zero-tolerance issue and any confirmed instances of forced labor by our suppliers with any factories and mills that produce garments, accessories or fabric, or use of cotton grown in Xinjiang may result in termination of the business relationship," Next Level shared in a statement of Fox News.

Nine Line Apparel has partnered with Oritain — an organization that verifies the origin of products from around the globe to help its clients choose ethically sourced goods.

After becoming aware of Next Level's alleged link to the slave labor region of China, Merritt is encouraging other businesses to be more conscious of where their company's materials may be sourced from.

Since 2017 large numbers of Uyghurs have reportedly been incarcerated by the Chinese government in detention facilities built in the middle of the desert — away from the attention of the international community and the local population.

It's unknown how many Uyghurs are currently being detained, but eyewitness and leaked documents have estimated over a million people have been forced into these camps, where they allegedly are subjected to dehumanizing treatment, such as torture, rape, forced labor, and routine humiliation.

"I do private labels for some of my military units. I do it for church groups and school groups that my kids go to. And a lot of people don't realize that their product may derive from the slave trade. And these are church organizations or school groups that people who, you know, visit my stores that are extremely patriotic. And at the very least, we want ethical sourcing," Merritt said.