Jewher Ilham is one of the main activists of the Coalition to End Forced Labor in the Uyghur Region and is the author of the recent book Because I Have To: The Path to Survival, The Uyghur Struggle. She has testified before the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which was created to monitor human rights and rule of law in China. She also received numerous awards on behalf of her imprisoned father, Ilham Tohti, known as the “Uyghur Mandela.”
In an opinion piece for CNN, Jewher gave her opinion on the link between the forced labor of Uyghurs and U.S. corporations and describes her father’s critical situation. In one of her many powerful statements in the article, Jewher warns:
“The plight of our people has only worsened since my father was sentenced. After years of keeping us in cycles of poverty and social isolation, the Chinese government has rapidly accelerated its campaign of oppression.”
The case of Ilham Tohti
In Xinjiang, the Chinese government has imprisoned more than a million Uyghurs in detention camps. In 2014, Ilham Tohti, an intellectual and economist, a prolific writer, and formerly the host of a website, Uyghur Online, was arrested, accused of advocating separatism, violence, and the overthrow of the Chinese government. He was given a two-day trial and sentenced to life imprisonment. The last time his family received news of him was in 2017. However, he remains one of the symbols of the struggle for the rights of a particularly persecuted minority.
“My father was being punished for standing up for Uyghurs like us and sharing his vision for freedom and opportunity for all our people as widely as he could. His call was simple: If the Chinese government followed its own laws granting autonomy to ethnic minorities, the Uyghur people would have the opportunity to grow and develop to the ultimate benefit of the entire nation.”
An accelerated campaign of oppression against Uyghurs
Since Ilham Tohti was incarcerated, the Chinese have increasingly profited from the forced labor of the Uyghur people.
While the Chinese government claims that the aim of its campaign against Uyghurs is to “alleviate poverty” and prevent terrorism – and describes detention centers as “vocational training centers” – testimonies indicate that people from various minorities are subjected to forced sterilization, forced labor, constant monitoring, and multiple abuses that “are making it impossible for Uyghurs to thrive – or to do much more than survive – in China,” according to Jewher.
She adds “now, the most exploited energy resources in the Uyghur Region are its people and their forced labor.”
The facts of Uyghur forced labor
- Approximately 20% of the world’s cotton is produced in the Uyghur Region, where Uyghurs are forced to pick it by hand. That means that cotton garments on the global market are highly likely to be tainted with Uyghur forced labor.
- According to a 2020 Chinese government white paper, approximately 1.29 million people in the Uyghur Region were subjected to “vocational training” annually between 2014 and 2019.
- 17+ global industries – from agriculture to toys – are implicated in Uyghur forced labor
Jewher believes that if brands and retailers stop sourcing goods from the Uyghur Region, it would help bring us closer to the end of this widespread repression.
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