Forced Labor Revealed at Xinjiang Camps

Forced Labor Revealed at Xinjiang Camps

Beijing’s approach to its network of “re-education” camps in Xinjiang—which have detained between 800,000 and two million Turkic Muslims—has shifted from outright denial, to claims of improving social stability, employability, and cultural integration for “poverty-ridden” residents, to ultimately providing legal justification and insider footage depicting the camps as “vocational educational centers.” Now, personal accounts, satellite imagery, and official documents reveal that re-education camp detainees are being assigned to newly built factories, either within camp facilities or nearby, a practice resembling China’s abolished reeducation through labor system. At the New York Times, Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy report:

“These people who are detained provide free or low-cost forced labor for these factories,” said 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 said.

[…] They mostly made clothes, and they called their employers “black factories,” because of the low wages and tough conditions, he said.

[…] The documents detail plans for inmates, even those formally released from the camps, to take jobs at factories that work closely with the camps to continue to monitor and control them. The socks, suits, skirts and other goods made by these laborers would be sold in Chinese stores and could trickle into overseas markets.

Kashgar, an ancient, predominantly Uighur area of southern Xinjiang that is a focus of the program, reported that in 2018 alone it aimed to send 100,000 inmates who had been through the “vocational training centers” to work in factories, according to a plan issued in August.

[…] Retailers in the United States and other countries should guard against buying goods made by workers from the Xinjiang camps, which could violate laws banning imports produced by prison or forced labor, Mr. Kamm [founder of the Dui Hua Foundation] said. [Source]

For AP, Dake Kang, Martha Mendoza, and Yanan Wang investigate how the Hetian Taida Apparel factory located within an internment camp has been exporting clothing year-round to North Carolina’s Badger Sportswear, which sells to college campuses and sports teams across the U.S.:

[…] Now, the Chinese government is also forcing some detainees to work in manufacturing and food industries. Some of them are within the internment camps; others are privately-owned, state-subsidized factories where detainees are sent once they are released.

[…] The shipments show how difficult it is to stop products made with forced labor from getting into the global supply chain, even though such imports are illegal in the U.S. Badger CEO John Anton said Sunday that the company would halt shipments while it investigates.

Hetian Taida’s chairman Wu Hongbo confirmed that the company has a factory inside a re-education compound, and said they provide employment to those trainees who were deemed by the government to be “unproblematic.”

“We’re making our contribution to eradicating poverty,” Wu told the AP over the phone.

[…] Payment varied according to the factory. Some got paid nothing, while others earned up to several hundred dollars a month, they said — barely above minimum wage for the poorer parts of Xinjiang. A person with firsthand knowledge of the situation in one county estimated that more than 10,000 detainees — or 10 to 20 percent of the internment population there — are working in factories, with some earning just a tenth of what they used to earn before. The person declined to be named out of fear of retribution. [Source]

The international community has increasingly called for action on Xinjiang. Last month, a group of over 600 scholars released a joint statement condemning the camps. Now, RFA reports that 115 Czech and Slovak scholars and public figures have also asked Beijing to shutter the camps. U.S. lawmakers have proposed sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, export controls on surveillance technology, and introduced a Uyghur human rights bill in Congress.

In September, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet proposed that international monitors enter Xinjiang. To prepare for this possibility, Xinjiang authorities are removing barbed wire and metal window bars from camp facilities, relocating detainees, and instructing residents how to respond to international monitors. These preparations occurred alongside reports that prominent Muslim cleric Abdukerim Abduweli has died after 30 years in a Xinjiang prison. Radio Free Asia provides further details:

A source recently told RFA that residents of Awat (in Chinese, Awati) county, in the XUAR’s Aksu (Akesu) prefecture, had been informed that an “inspection team” would soon be visiting the area, which is home to three re-education camps.

Of the 5,700 detainees at No. 2 Re-education Camp, 2,700 had been transferred to No. 1 and No. 3 camps, the source said, speaking to RFA on condition of anonymity, and authorities are removing all barbed wire from the perimeter of the camp walls, as well as other security measures, such as metal bars on the doors and windows.

If anyone is asked by the inspection team how many camps exist in Awat, residents should say only one, the source added.

The source provided RFA with a copy of a “confidentiality agreement” authorities in Awat are requiring re-education camp detainees to sign, which states that they will not discuss the workings of the camps, accept any interviews, or use communication channels such as social media or SMS messaging to disseminate information about the camp system.

Those who violate the agreement are subject to “accountability according to related national laws,” it reads. [Source]

While Indian and Bangladeshi Muslims have publicly protested and Uyghurs abroad have demonstrated in cities worldwide, economic incentives and  pressure on exiled Uyghurs have led the Muslim world to remain largely silent. Additionally, as the South China Morning Post has discovered through interviews with Muslims abroad, Xinjiang’s scenery and cuisine is alluring to the point that some Muslim tourists are willing to overlook the ongoing human rights crisis.

For more on the ongoing situation in Xinjiang, read George Washington University professor Sean R. Roberts’ accounts from an informant who is familiar with daily life in the prison-like camps, and University of Washington lecturer Darren Byler’s paper on the practice of one million Chinese civil servants inserting themselves into Uyghur and Kazakh homes. 


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