It’s no secret that the vast majority of the textiles that Americans purchase are imported. According to USA Today, some 650 textile plants closed in the U.S. between 1997 and 2009 and, though there have been flickers of resurgence since, there’s only been an 11% increase in the total value of U.S. textile and apparel shipments since.
China has a firm footprint in the industry, but it might surprise you to learn that some of your favorite items stamped “Made in China” are actually being made somewhere else – North Korea. Reuters is reporting that Chinese textile firms are increasingly using North Korean factories to take advantage of their cheaper labor.
The border city of Dandong is identified as the hub where much of the Chinese-North Korea goods trade is occurring and Reuters sources say that some Chinese suppliers aren’t exactly candid with their buyers – whether they be in the U.S., Europe or elsewhere. And while the UN has been bestowing economic sanctions on North Korea in recent weeks, textiles are the country’s second biggest exports, but they’ve not actually been banned as of yet.
But that doesn’t mean textile buyers – or their end customers – would be exactly comfortable knowing the true source of that cheap t-shirt. Australian sportswear brand Rip Curl was forced to apologize last year, says Reuters, when it was reported that some of its clothing was being assembled and exported by North Korea, despite bearing a “made in China” label. The company blamed a supplier for outsourcing to a subcontractor that the company had not approved.
That said, one of the sources Reuters interviewed – who elected to remain anonymous for obvious reasons – hinted that the practice is more widespread than this. This particular trader says manufacturers can save up to 75 percent by making their clothes in North Korea, and with finished goods often being shipped back to Chinese ports before distribution, often no one is the wiser.
I’m Anna Wells and this is IEN Now.