Making a Killing: Dozens of Corporations Found Benefiting from Forced Uyghur Muslim Labor

Published March 15th, 2020 - 07:39 GMT
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Chinese factory workers produce aerosol cans for global export (AFP/FILE)
A groundbreaking report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has found that 83 major international corporations are allegedly involved in benefiting from forced Uyghur labor in China. 

According to the ASPI, an estimated 80,000 Uyghurs, a persecuted ethnic and religious minority living mostly in the northwest region of Xinjiang, were transferred to factories producing cheap goods for companies including Nike, Puma, Adidas, Fila, Huawei, Samsung, Volksvagen, BMW, Gap and Apple. Some were threatened to be returned to detention centers if they refused to work, and many worked under strict surveillance by government-linked minders.

 

Beginning in 2017, the Chinese government has instituted a police state in the region of Xinjiang, mass-surveilling ethno-religious minorities, forcing up to three million in detention and re-education camps that have been deemed concentration camps. Muslim cultural sites including mosques and graveyards have been bulldozed, cafes have been closed, halal markets have been forced to sell non-halal products, and everyday Muslim practices have become functionally impossible to maintain according to reports. 

Human rights activists warn that the overall goal is to socially re-engineer Turkic and Uyghur Muslims.

At the same time, multinational corporations have sought to profit off of the cheap labor from the camps, employing them by the thousands under the promise they would work under military-like authoritarian conditions. The result is a sprawling enterprise ensnaring tens of thousands of Uyghurs into a system of social and economic exploitation by a combination of regime and corporate power. 

“The ‘re-education’ campaign appears to be entering a new phase, as government officials now claim that all ‘trainees’ have ‘graduated,’” according to the ASPI report. It further reveals “that Chinese factories outside Xinjiang are also sourcing Uyghur workers under a revived, exploitative government-led labour transfer.”

Their work and surveillance conditions makes respite nearly impossible to seek, as Uyghurs are put through a labyrinth of coercive governmental measures to ensure compliance. Uyghurs appear to be transferred from Xinjiang into factories throughout China on segregated trains. After work hours, they are reportedly forced to attend Mandarin language classes, ‘patriotic’ programs, and are prevented from freely practicing their religion. 

 

Outside, the factory is lined by razorwire, watchtowers, and guards. 

 

 

It is also clear that Uyghur laborers’ families can be held responsible for any malfeasance of the worker, as government minders report to other officials inside Xinjiang on the worker’s behavior. If minders find a Quran, its owner will be sent into re-education camps for an estimated 3-5 years. 

ASPI found that “around 600 ethnic minority workers from Xinjiang were employed at Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd,” whose primary customer is Nike

ASPI found that “around 600 ethnic minority workers from Xinjiang were employed at Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd,” whose primary customer is Nike. The night school Uyghurs in the factory are reportedly forced to attend is called the ‘Pomegranate Seed’ Night School, in an apparent reference to a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping where he exclaimed that  “every ethnic group must tightly bind together like the seeds of a pomegranate.” 

Workers at Taekwang also appear to be forced to meet with psychological counselors who monitor the ideological and religious leanings of the Uyghurs, who are encouraged to embrace Han Chinese identity markers as signs of their assimilation into mainland Chinese life. 

Outside, the factory is lined by razorwire, watchtowers, and guards. 

 

“The problem is the policies that require Uyghurs to work under duress in violation of well-established international labour laws.”

 

In a press statement, Nike said it was not directly employing forced Uyghur labor but would review their locally-sourced production chains. “Nike is committed to upholding international labor standards and we are continuing to evaluate how to best monitor our compliance standards in light of the complexity of this situation,” the company added.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook visited one site which had, until his visit, employed forced Uyghur labor.  The O-Film Technology Co. Ltd factory transferred its Uyghur workers in days leading up to Cook’s highly publicized visit, where he praised the factory’s “humane approach towards employees,” and added that its workers are “able to gain growth at the company, and live happily.” Apple has since deleted the press release.

 

In Chinese advertisements showcasing Uyghur laborers’ availability to companies, posts make clear the Chinese government itself is organizing them into the labor pool. One such ad brags about workers living under “semi-military style management” conditions who can begin work within 15 days, but discloses that companies must “order” a minimum of 100 Uyghur workers to be considered for contracts. 

“The response to the abuses identified in this report should not involve a knee-jerk rejection of Uyghur or Chinese labour,” the report cautions. “The problem is the policies that require Uyghurs to work under duress in violation of well-established international labour laws.”

More broadly, the merging of regime and corporate interests in the oppression of Uyghur Muslims could serve as a blueprint for other authoritarian regimes simultaneously looking to neutralize a targeted ethnic group while profiting off their labor. 

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.


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