US companies profit from Uighur forced labor?

A leading US sportswear company this week announced that it has dropped a Chinese supplier over concerns that its products were made by forced labor in detention camps in Xinjiang. Reports have mounted that the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs believed to be held in a fast-expanding system of detention camps are being put to forced labor for Chinese commercial interests. "These people who are detained provide free or low-cost forced labor for these factories," according to Mehmet Volkan Kasikci, a researcher in Turkey who has collected accounts of inmates in the factories by interviewing relatives who have left China. "Stories continue to come to me," he told the New York Times last month. An Associated Press investigation tracked recent shipments from one such detention-camp factory, run by the privately-owned Hetian Taida Apparel, to Badger Sportswear of North Carolina.

Under growing international pressure, China, after long denying that the camps exist, now says it would welcome UN officials to inspect them—with caveats. "Xinjiang is an open region, we welcome all parties, including UN officials, to visit, if they abide by China's laws and regulations, and go through the proper travel procedures," a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said. But he warned that UN officials should also "avoid interfering in domestic matters" and adopt an objective and neutral attitude. (Al Jazeera)

During a first visit to three of the camps by foreign reporters this week, officials said the "vocational training centers" have reduced extremism by teaching Xinjiang residents about the law and helping them learn Mandarin. Reporters were shown classrooms where detainees learned about China's geography. Wrote Reuters: "There was plenty of singing and dancing in other rooms reporters visited, including a lively rendition in English of 'If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands' that seemed to have been put on especially for the visit." 

Photo via Bitter Winter

  1. Targeted disappearances in Xinjiang

    Chinese authorities appear to be continuing their targeting of Uighur cultural figures for detention. The New York Times notes the case of Qurban Mamut, editor of the magazine Xinjiang Civilization, who actually retired in 2011 and apparently always stayed within the bounds of what was permissible discourse during the years he worked there—yet has nonetheless been detained.

    But there are many more. Also among those believed to be detained in the camps is the Uighur comedian Adil Mijit, who performed hundreds of shows each year in Xinjiang before disappearing in early November. (CBC, Dec. 31) Also believed to be held is Zahirshah Ablimit, a musician from Atush (Chinese: Atushi), in Xinjiang's Kizilsu Kirghiz (Kezileisu Keerkezi) Autonomous Prefecture, who toured cities throughout China while singing modern pop and traditional Uighur folk songs over the course of a 15-year career. (RFA, Dec. 17) 

    Hardly surprisingly, those who protest the mass detentions are themselves targeted. Authorities earlier last year reportedly arrested a Uighur court official for "two-faced" tendencies after he spoke out. Ghalip Qurban (Chinese: Alifu Kuerban), deputy head of the Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi, was detained upon returning from attending a conference in Beijing in April. He had previously been called for several "chats" with State Security Ministry agents. It is unclear if he has been interned for "re-education" or actually faces criminal charges. (RFA, Dec. 18)

  2. China plan to ‘Sinicize’ Islam

    China is developing a five-year plan for the "sinicization" of Islam, according to the government-backed China Islamic Association. Representatives from local Islamic associations from eight provinces and regions, including Beijing, Shanghai, Hunan, Yunnan, and Qinghai, discussed the plan at a meeting on Jan. 5. The plan will focus on requiring mosques to to uphold "core values of socialism, traditional culture, laws and regulations," Association president Yang Faming told the meeting, which was organized by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department. (RFA, Global Times)

  3. China persecution of Uighur intellectuals documented

    A report by the Uyghur Human Rights Project found that Chinese authorities have interned, imprisoned or forcibly disappeared 338 Uighur intellectual, academic and cultural figures since April 2017. The UHRP is calling upon universities, researchers, and cultural programs to suspend all cooperation with the Chinese Ministry of Education until the camps are closed, the victims compensated, and perpetrators brought to justice.

  4. US Commerce Department blacklists 11 Chinese companies

    The US Department of Commerce economically blacklisted 11 more Chinese companies on Monday due to involvement in human rights abuses perpetrated against Uighur Muslims. Secretary of Commerce¬†Wilbur Ross cited¬†China’s “campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor, involuntary collection of biometric data, and genetic analyses targeted at Muslim minority groups from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR),”¬†as the reason for the sanctions. (Jurist)

  5. US sanctions Xinjiang paramilitary settler corps

    The Trump administration slapped sanctions on China’s paramilitary settler corps¬†in Xinjiang, an institution with roots pre-dating the Chinese Revolution and often described as a “state within a state.”

    The move, announced July 31 by the Treasury Department, freezes assets of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC); Sun Jinlong, a former political commissar of the XPCC; and Peng Jiarui, the deputy party secretary and commander of the XPCC. They are accused of complicity in rights abuses against the Uighur people of Xinjiang.

    The announcement¬†sheds light on a powerful and secretive organization that controls much of the regional economy in Xinjiang. The XPCC, more commonly known as the Bingtuan (or Corps), was established in 1954 to formalize militia forces in the region that had been left adrift at the end of China’s decades-long civil war. Overwhelmingly Han, these militias were given land grants, becoming¬†soldier-farmers with responsibility to both settle and defend the territory. The¬†XPCC today runs¬†its own towns, health care, and even TV stations.

    The Treasury Department designations mark one of the first times that the US has sanctioned top Chinese government officials or a large state entity. The sanctions were carried out under the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act, which grants the US government authority to sanction foreign entities and personnel complicit in human rights violations. (Foreign Policy, AFP, World Uyghur Congress)

  6. Coalition brings pressure to end forced Uighur labor

    More than 190 organizations spanning 36 countries issued a call to action, seeking formal commitments from clothing brands to cut all ties with suppliers implicated in Uighur forced labor and to end all sourcing from the Xinjiang region of China in the next twelve months.

    Roughly one in five cotton garments sold globally contains cotton or yarn from the Xinjiang region in northwestern China. There, authorities have used coercive labor programs and mass internment to remold as many as one million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other largely Muslim minorities into model workers obedient to the Communist Party. Camp inmates are forced to undergo job training, and some then take factory positions at little or no pay.

    “Many brands have known for years about the growing body of evidence around Uighur exploitation,”¬†said Peter Irwin, a spokesman for the Uyghur Human Rights Project, an advocacy group based in Washington DC. “They won’t stop unethical sourcing practices unless they are faced with real reputational risk and the possibility that consumers will stop shopping from their stores.” (NYT, July 23)

  7. Video footage from Xinjiang detention system

    Chinese claims that the detention camps in Xinjiang have been closed is challenged by new video images. In one, Merdan Ghappar, a young Uighur man who was a celebrity model for Chinese online retailer Taobao before his detention, is seen handcuffed to his bed in a cell. He took the footage himself after apparently having had his cellphone mistakenly returned to him with his clothes. Another, taken by drone, appears to show scores of prisoners with shaved heads being led to trains at a rail station while shackled and blindfolded. More videos are circulating on Chinese social media, appearing to show captives being herded into trains, buses and planes, apparently for transfer to forced labor. (BBC News, Axios, CodaStory)

  8. ‘Uighur Justin Bieber’ among the disappeared

    Recent media reports reveal that pop singer Ablajan Awut Ayup, who styled himself as the “Uighur Justin Bieber,” disappeared in 2018 and is believed to be held at one of the detention camps. (Bitter Winter,¬†FreeMuse,¬†LARB)

  9. House passes Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act

    The US House of Representatives voted 406-3 to approve HR 6210, known as the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which aims to prevent goods made using forced labor from being imported from China to the US. The act “imposes various restrictions related to China‚Äôs Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region, including by prohibiting certain imports from Xinjiang and imposing sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations there.” (Jurist)