Free Uyghurs from forced labor in China - FreedomUnited.org
Campaign Update:

March 8, 2021: The Chinese government tried to discredit the women who have spoken out about human rights violations including #forcedlabor in the Uyghur region. The Coalition stands by these women! Read our statement here.

Free Uyghurs from forced labor in China

Write to Apple and fashion brands. Read Rahima’s story.

“If the government tells you to work, you go.” Uyghur laborer, Aksu, China.1

People belonging to ethnic, cultural, and religious groups in northwestern China, including Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Hui, are currently the target of the largest organized detention of an ethno-religious minority the world has seen since World War II. Since 2017, over one million have been detained.2

Detainees are made to work under constant surveillance, with assigned minders and no freedom to leave. Their forced labor contributes to the production of goods for numerous multinationals.

The native people of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Northwest China—known to locals as East Turkistan—are largely from Turkic ethnic groups. Ethnically and culturally distinct from China’s majority Han population, most Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Hui are Muslim, and their languages—with the exception of the Hui—are unrelated to Mandarin and Cantonese. They have long been persecuted for their ethnicity by the government, which has repressed their language, religion, and culture along with settling millions of Han Chinese in the Uyghur Region.  Racial discrimination against Muslims is commonplace.3

In recent years, however, the government’s efforts to oppress and forcibly assimilate people from Turkic and Muslim-majority ethnic groups, like Uyghurs, have expanded dramatically.

Survivor accounts, leaked official documents, and satellite imagery confirm that the Chinese government is subjecting hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui, and other Turkic and Muslim people to systematic forced labor in detention camps, prisons, and factories. 4 Forced loyalty to the Communist party, renunciation of Islam, constant surveillance, and torture are among the other horrifying conditions that they face.5 Experts argue that forced labor is now so widespread in the Uyghur Region that all goods produced there should be considered tainted.6

This year, reports revealed that the forced labor of Uyghurs has been expanded beyond the Uyghur Region, with at least 80,000 Uyghurs transferred to factories across China where they cannot leave, are constantly surveilled, and must undergo “ideological training” to abandon their religion and culture.7

Recent video evidence shows that some of these transfers occurred earlier this year, when much of China was under lockdown as a result of the expanding COVID-19 outbreak. This means these laborers were forced to work and exposed to the virus while much of the country’s population sheltered at home. 8

Few detainees are charged with any crime but rather are targeted simply for practicing their Muslim faith. 9 The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination states that Muslim minorities are now “treated as enemies of the State based on nothing more than their ethno-religious identity.”10 Analysts have argued that the Chinese government’s use of forced labor as part of an effort to forcibly assimilate an ethnic group and eliminate a culture and religion sets it apart from more common forms of forced labor and could make the government guilty of crimes against humanity.11 Some have even described the government’s actions as cultural genocide.12

The forced labor of Uyghurs and other people from Turkic or mainly Muslim ethnic groups has become a significant part of the Chinese economy. A complex system of buying and selling their labor has developed, with many brokers and local officials advertising “government sponsored workers” online.13

Countless Western companies are also profiting from this system of forced labor in their supply chains. Over 20 percent of the global apparel’s cotton supply is grown in Uyghur Region,14 with 84 percent of China’s supply grown in the province. Recent reports implicate at least 83 companies, in numerous different industries, in profiting from the forced labor.

  • The Huafu Fashion Co. mill in Aksu, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, claims to make yarn that eventually finds its way into clothes for Western fast fashion brands More than 4,000 Uyghurs work there in isolation and under strict “military-style management,” as stated by the local human resources bureau. 15
  • The Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd. in Laixi City, Shandong is one of the world’s largest manufacturers for a major sneaker company. As of 2020, around 600 Uyghur people worked in the factory. These workers did not come by choice, are forbidden from leaving, and cannot practice their religion. Photographs of the factory show watchtowers, razor wire, and inward-facing barbed wire fences. 16
  • A local government document from September 2019 reported that 560 Xinjiang labourers were transferred to work in factories in central Henan province—including a Foxxcon Technology Co. Ltd.  facility in Zhengzhou. Zhengzhou is known locally as ‘iPhone city’ because half of the world’s iPhones are reportedly made there17

We have launched a new action for you to write directly to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc. While Mr. Cook last year told US Congress that “forced labor is abhorrent,” several current Apple suppliers operating in China have been implicated in the Uyghur forced labor system.18 Additionally, the New York Times reported in November 2020 that disclosure forms showed that Apple paid lobbyists $90,000 to “educate policymakers” in an effort to soften the language of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act which is currently before the U.S. Senate 19. Apple has also been supplied employee uniforms as recently as June 2020 by the Esquel group which was sanctioned in 2020 by the U.S. government over forced labor at a subsidiary firm in the Uyghur Region.20 Apple keeps saying it has “zero tolerance” for forced labor so why do they continue to work with companies implicated in modern slavery?

Through garment supply chains, the entire fashion industry, including products sold by Western brands, are potentially tainted. We are calling on leading brands and retailers to ensure that they are not supporting or benefiting from this pervasive and extensive system of forced labor.21

You can write write directly to Nike, Uniqlo and Zara. These are three of the world’s biggest clothing brands by revenue,22 and each comes from a different region of the world: North America, Asia, and Europe, respectively.

Nike, Uniqlo and Zara, like almost all companies, claim to prohibit forced labor in their supply chains, yet offer no credible explanation as to how they can do this considering their links to a region where all goods are likely to be tainted by forced labor. By continuing to operate in and maintaining links to the region, fashion brands like these are complicit in what many have widely recognized as crimes against humanity. 

The Chinese government has defended the camps where cotton and garments are produced as voluntary “vocational training centers” that serve to provide professional opportunities and eliminate extremism.23 But the stories above are just some among the mounting evidence that reveal this system of modern slavery for what it is.

We have the power to push for change. Although the Chinese government continues to deny any wrongdoing, we can draw attention to the issue and put pressure on them to end the use of forced labor. Western governments and corporations must end their involvement in implicated factories. By making it neither economically nor politically advantageous for the Chinese government to continue its current treatment of these people, we can make a difference.

There is a growing movement calling for these changes, and now we have ample evidence to argue for it. Some officials in the U.S. government and around the world have already started calling for laws banning imports from the Uyghur Region. Some companies have cut ties with their factories in the Uyghur Region, while others have pledged to investigate their supply chains. Let’s take advantage of this momentum and use our voice as civil society to cement real change.

Urge the Chinese government to end the persecution and exploitation of Uyghurs and other marginalized groups through the use of forced labor.

Freedom United denounces prejudice against people based on their ethnicity, perceived or otherwise, which has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s links to China. 

Notes:

  1. https://www.wsj.com/articles/western-companies-get-tangled-in-chinas-muslim-clampdown-11558017472
  2. https://www.csis.org/analysis/connecting-dots-xinjiang-forced-labor-forced-assimilation-and-western-supply-chains
  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-22278037
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/16/world/asia/xinjiang-china-forced-labor-camps-uighurs.html
  5. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-repression-uighurs-xinjiang
  6. https://www.fairlabor.org/sites/default/files/documents/reports/fla-brief-xinjiang_forced_labor_risk_final.pdf
  7. https://www.aspi.org.au/report/uyghurs-sale
  8. https://www.rfa.org/english/video?v=1_yjoodoqr
  9. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-repression-uighurs-xinjiang
  10. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23452&LangID=E
  11. https://www.ushmm.org/genocide-prevention/blog/simon-skjodt-center-director-delivers-remarks-on-chinas-systematic-persecut
  12. https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/19/china-has-chosen-cultural-genocide-in-xinjiang-for-now/
  13. https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/ad-aspi/2020-03/Uyghurs%20for%20sale_UPDATE-06MAR.pdf?TJHUQi1T50fUpbjD9zKRLeutM8wuWxpv#page=24
  14. https://www.gujcot.com/upload_files/news/Jernigan%20Global%2022-July-2019.pdf
  15. https://www.wsj.com/articles/western-companies-get-tangled-in-chinas-muslim-clampdown-11558017472
  16. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/china-compels-uighurs-to-work-in-shoe-factory-that-supplies-nike/2020/02/28/ebddf5f4-57b2-11ea-8efd-0f904bdd8057_story.html
  17. https://www.aspi.org.au/report/uyghurs-sale
  18. https://www.aspi.org.au/report/uyghurs-sale
  19. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/11/20/apple-uighur/
  20. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/aug/10/apple-imported-clothes-from-xinjiang-firm-facing-us-forced-labour-sanctions
  21. https://enduyghurforcedlabour.org/call-to-action/
  22. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Industries/Retail/Our%20Insights/The%20state%20of%20fashion%202020%20Navigating%20uncertainty/The-State-of-Fashion-2020-final.ashx
  23. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-repression-uighurs-xinjiang
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Clive Rubin
Clive Rubin
5 days ago

The list of ethical violations that Apple commits in pursuit of profits knows no limits.
1) Coercive practices at Foxconn; compulsory dormitory campus, compulsory overtime, unrealistic targets, no independent legal or union representation is the fate of contracted labour working for Apple’s tied suppliers.
2) The strong likelihood of Uighur slave labour involvement in Apples supply chain.
3) The hardship, pitiful, and terror ladened meagre existence of Columbite Tantalite and Cobalt diggers.

Marat
Marat
16 days ago

There are no just Uigurs in Concentration Capms in China Phaschists regim. Many people Kazakh, Mongol. Jungan origin prinstoned now in China occupied East Turkestan. China provide a policy of cegregation, discrimination and killling of East Turkistan origin Nations. A relativies of prinstoned in East Turkestan protest more than 45 days near China Consular in Almaty. And all world mass media keep a silence aboyt this new phaschism of 21 century. https://rus.azattyq.org/a/kazakhstan-almaty/3109209

florence delacroix
florence delacroix
3 days ago

Hypocritical discourse! a SHAME…

Jan Paul Graba
Jan Paul Graba
4 days ago

We must commit ourselves to ending business relationships with suppliers that are linked to the abhorrent forced labour system in China.

Tell Apple to Act

Dear Mr. Cook,

I am concerned that Apple’s suppliers are implicated in Uyghur forced labor in China, where over one million Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim people have been detained in the Uyghur Region since 2017 in a repressive campaign that involves sterilization, torture, and family separation, in addition to forced labor.

Reports in 2020 revealed that the forced labour of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples has been expanded beyond the Uyghur Region, with at least 80,000 people transferred to factories across China where they cannot leave, are under constant surveillance, and must undergo “ideological training” to abandon their religion and culture.

Your company is currently at risk of being complicit in and benefiting from these atrocities if you do not disengage from suppliers that have been publicly implicated in the forced labor system. Some of these companies include Foxconn Technology, Lens Technology, Hubei Yihong Precision Manufacturing Co. Ltd, GoerTek, BOE Technology Group Co. Ltd and others.

I urge your company to end all business relationships with suppliers that support and participate in the Uyghur forced labor system in China and to support the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (S.65). As a leading global brand, we as consumers expect you to demonstrate a respect for human rights.

Yours sincerely,

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