Free Uyghurs from forced labor in China - FreedomUnited.org

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
  • 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.

  • February 26, 2021: We’re pleased to announce that five other fashion companies have signed the Coalition’s Call to Action: ASOS, EILEEN FISHER, WE Fashion, Reformation and TFG Limited. These companies have all committed to ending all sourcing from the Uyghur Region!

  • February 4, 2021: Beijing 2022 opens in one year today – we’re asking what is the Int’l Olympic Committee’s human rights due diligence plan considering extensive #ForcedLabour in the Uyghur Region of China?  Read our coalition statement here

  • January 13, 2021: The US government announced that all raw fibers, apparel, and textiles originating in the Uyghur Region would be blocked, along with tomato products and seeds. This builds on an earlier decision we announced in September when a limited ban was introduced. The previous day the UK government announced new measures to tackle modern slavery including fines for links to forced Uyghur labor. Read more here.

  • January 6, 2021: BREAKING NEWS: Marks & Spencer has signed our coalition’s Call to Action and become the first major fashion brand to publicly commit to end all sourcing from the Uyghur Region! Read more here.

Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.

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Dave M
Dave M
1 year ago

How about naming the Western companies that are using the products coming from this region. Then we can choose not to purchase their products…corporations don’t care about issues like this (they will pretend to so they sound socially responsible) unless it costs them real, significant dollars.

Steve Barton
Steve Barton
20 days ago
Reply to  Dave M

Absolutely agree!

david L
david L
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave M

Better still. Unions bycott all shipping from China.

Nazrul Islam
Nazrul Islam
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave M

changed of China government might be a great solution for humanity.

Tara
Tara
7 months ago
Reply to  Dave M

Or we could all wear our clothes until they start to get holes, and then mend them and continue to wear them. It is hard, trust me, I know! I really struggle to go out in public, because I feel embarrassed, but if everyone did this, then I wouldn’t feel embarrassed about how I look.

Kaarina
Kaarina
1 month ago
Reply to  Tara

Good idea, no need to be embarrassrd

sherry A Clark
sherry A Clark
4 months ago
Reply to  Tara

That’ very IN you know

Christina Nguyen
Christina Nguyen
7 months ago
Reply to  Dave M

Nike and Apple seem to still be using Uighur forced labor. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-53481253

Also check the news on Disney’s Mulan filmed in Xinjiang (the home of Uighurs).

Lynette Sunderland
Lynette Sunderland
1 month ago

Nothing Nike and Apple do would surprise me. Money not people is their motivator.

Myroon halpern
Myroon halpern
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave M

Really want to see this list

Janet Hudgins
Janet Hudgins
7 months ago
Reply to  Freedom United

Don’t see a list of brands there.

Anne Mullane
Anne Mullane
7 months ago
Reply to  Freedom United

I see the coalition of organisations at that site but I cannot find any of the brands being targeted???

Anne Mullane
Anne Mullane
7 months ago
Reply to  Freedom United

Thanks for this information. Without you I would have no idea who to avoid – now at least I have some definite ones. Being vegan also, there are so many brands of everything that I choose to avoid but need the information. I look forward to the time we can access a list of brands that are slavery-free!

Tara
Tara
7 months ago
Reply to  Anne Mullane

I would love it if everyone committed to only wearing recycled or secondhand clothing. I know the clothes can be ugly and it can be hard to find suitable clothes for your lifestyle and the right sizes, but it’s so much better for the environment and also you won’t be supporting slave labour!

sherry A Clark
sherry A Clark
4 months ago
Reply to  Tara

My closet is full. I’m best dressed in the Drs. office. Can’t go any where else. I hate these fabrics being put together for the lack of cotton. I don’t buy many items because of it.

Rosalind Johansson
Rosalind Johansson
11 months ago

I travelled in the area in 2016. I saw that all Uighur farmsteads had been closed and people relocated to showy red painted villages with inadequate space traditional life style, but most of the villages were empty, so where were the people? The Old City in Kashgar, which has stood at least 2000 years, ha been emptied (of the Uighur people who lived there) except for a token family on show to tourists. The bulldozers were in. I saw much evidence of oppression and have boycotted China since.

Kalyan Banerjee
Kalyan Banerjee
8 months ago

Free Tibet as well, they are destroying Buddhism from Tibet.

Carole Jackson
11 months ago

DONT BUY ANY THING MADE IN CHINA, EVERY HUMAN DESERVES THE RIGHT TO BE FREE & CHINA IS TAKING THAT FREEDOM FROM ETHNIC PEOPLE OF CHINA, SHAM ON CHINA.