Shoppers check out the items at the University of Maine bookstore in this BDN file photo. Credit: Anthony Takacs

A factory certification group said Sunday that it found no evidence that forced labor was used to make popular college sportswear in a Chinese factory.

Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit company that certifies factories for lawful, human and ethical manufacturing worldwide, said a story by the Associated Press on Dec. 18, followed by stories in other media, including the Bangor Daily News, were false. The stories alleged that a Badger Sportswear Factory in China relied on forced labor to make clothing sold mostly at college stores.

“Last week we were surprised to hear reports from several media outlets that a WRAP certified factory, Hetian Taida, located in Xinjiang in northwestern China, was using forced labor from a government-run re-education camp. Immediately upon learning of these serious allegations, we launched an investigation, which included sending one of our senior auditors to do a full on-site audit of the facility,” WRAP said in a statement issued Sunday.

“Based on the findings of this investigation, we have concluded that this facility is not engaged in the use of forced labor.”

The auditor confirmed that this facility is not located within the premises of a Chinese reeducation camp, WRAP said, but is in a separate industrial park with other factories. There are no physical barriers or any other kind of excessive security.

WRAP said the investigation included interviews with a significant portion of the workforce at the facility, which confirmed they were not drawn from the re-education camp.

Most of the workers reside in a dormitory located in a separate building within the industrial park. The WRAP auditor visited the dormitory and found regular living quarters allowing for free movement.

News of the alleged ties of Badger Sportswear to the factory caused bookstores at colleges in Maine, including Colby, Bates, Bowdoin and the University of Maine in Orono, to pull products made by Badger Sportswear from their shelves last week.

Badger issued its own statement saying that “Regardless of these findings, given the serious nature of these accusations, we are conducting our own investigation. We retained an independent, third-party inspection team to visit the site and examine relevant documents. We expect this work to be completed in the near future.”