U.S. Government Sanctions Companies for Forced Labor in Xinjiang

The U.S. government has announced sanctions on 11 companies which allegedly use forced labor of Uyghurs—many of whom have been involuntarily transferred to work in factories from detention camps set up across Xinjiang—or otherwise contribute to repression in the region.

Reuters reports:

The step, which leaves the firms unable to buy components from U.S. companies without U.S. government approval, prompted an accusation of slander from China, which vowed to take measures to protect its companies’ rights.

The Commerce Department said the companies were involved in using forced labor by Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups.

Among them are numerous textile companies and two firms the government said were conducting genetic analyses used to further the repression of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.

It was the third group of companies and institutions in China added to the U.S. blacklist, after two rounds in which the Trump administration cited 37 entities it said were involved in China’s repression in Xinjiang. [Source]

Jeanne Whalen at The Washington Post has more on the companies impacted by the new rules:

Several of the companies were named in a report this year as running factories that used Xinjiang laborers compelled to work under a forced-labor program led by the government. The Chinese companies, including Changji Esquel Textile, Hefei Meiling and Nanjing Synergy Textiles, are suppliers to many Western companies, according to the report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank founded and partly funded by the Australian government, with additional funding from Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and other companies.

In a letter to Commerce Secretary Ross dated Monday, Hong Kong-based Esquel Group asked to be removed from the list, saying the company “does not use forced labor, and we never will use forced labor.” It added: “We have been employing willing members of the Uyghur community and other minority groups since 1995 on a non-discriminatory basis.” The other companies couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.

Earlier this year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized a shipment of hair-weave products from another of the newly sanctioned companies, Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories, saying it had information indicating that the goods were made with the use of forced labor. The Associated Press mentioned that seizure in a subsequent investigation. The company could not be reached immediately for comment. [Source]

This news followed an investigative report by The New York Times which found that forced labor is being used to produce face masks and other PPE exported to countries, including the U.S., that are dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks.

The companies produce equipment primarily for domestic use, but The Times identified several other companies outside Xinjiang that use Uighur labor and export globally. We traced a shipment of face masks to a medical supply company in the U.S. state of Georgia from a factory in China’s Hubei Province, where more than 100 Uighur workers had been sent. The workers are required to learn Mandarin and pledge their loyalty to China at weekly flag-raising ceremonies.

The program is widely publicized in state media as a form of poverty reduction. The Human Rights Investigations Lab at the University of California, Berkeley and the Uyghur Human Rights Project have both collected dozens of videos and social media reports that document the recent labor transfers.

Uighurs have long been persecuted by the Chinese government, which says its tight control over Xinjiang is necessary to fight what it calls religious extremism. In a response to The Times, the spokesman for China’s Embassy in the U.S. said the program helps “local residents rise above poverty through employment and lead fulfilling lives.”

Quotas on the number of workers put into the labor program and the penalties faced by those who refuse to cooperate, however, mean that participation is often, in effect, involuntary. [Source]


(Read New York Times reporter Muyi Xiao’s full thread.)

Meanwhile, after the BBC showed him drone footage of apparently shackled prisoners in Xinjiang being put on trains, Chinese Ambassador to the U.K. Liu Xiaoming defended his government’s policies in the region, including allegations of mandated birth control and the forced sterilization of Uyghur women. At The Atlantic, Mei Fong puts recent reports of ethnic sterilization in the broader context of China’s family planning polices, which she says “have always been less about births, and more about control.”

Evidence of widespread internment camps, forced cultural and religious assimilation, mass surveillance, and other repressive policies in Xinjiang have led international experts to term what is happening there genocide, while activist groups have filed a lawsuit against the Chinese government at the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity. The U.S. government recently imposed new Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against high-ranking Chinese officials responsible for rights violations in Xinjiang.

For The Guardian, Eveline Chao profiles Dilara, a young Uyghur woman in Turkey whose mother was detained in Xinjiang after visiting Turkey for a year to care for her newborn granddaughter:

For months after being released, her mother had to attend weekly flag-raising ceremonies at the camp, standing silently alongside rows of other Uighurs. Each time, she would post a video of it to WeChat. “Every fucking Monday,” Dilara said, pulling out her phone and loading up her mother’s account, “she posts, ‘Flag-raising ceremony.’” She scrolled down to the next several posts. “Flag-raising ceremony,” she repeated.

Dilara is aware there are large subject areas her mother avoids, because their calls are probably monitored. Her mother only feels safe mentioning the camps when saying something positive. She has bragged that she was the best student there, getting high marks in the monthly tests on “Xi Jinping thought” and Communist party doctrine.

What is most upsetting to Dilara – and what compels her to speak out – is that none of her Han Chinese friends know what is happening. During the year her mother was interned, she tried to tell her colleagues about the camps, but “they would always say, ‘No you must be wrong, that can’t be.’”. Her company paid for return trips to China every few months, and each time, her colleagues would ask why she wasn’t coming home too. “I kept telling them, we can’t go back, but they don’t believe me,” she said. [Source]

To learn more about the current situation in Xinjiang, listen to two podcasts, Lawfare on A Deep Dive on China and the Uighurs, and Darren Byler on the Uyghur people of Xinjiang, China on Time to Say Goodbye.


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