A new Buzzfeed News investigation shows that Xinjiang authorities have constructed massive factory facilities alongside internment camps where over one million ethnic minorities, primarily Uyghurs and Kazakhs, have been imprisoned. The investigation alleges that the detention camp factories use detainees’ forced, often unpaid, labor. The report is the fourth Buzzfeed investigation by Megha Rajagopalan and Alison Killing on detention in Xinjiang. Previous articles exposed the construction of new detention sites and the experiences of some who had been detained, among other topics. From the latest report:
[…] Collectively, the factory facilities identified by BuzzFeed News cover more than 21 million square feet — nearly four times the size of the Mall of America. (Ford’s historic River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan, once the largest industrial complex in the world, is 16 million square feet.)
[…] Detention camp factories are woven deeply into Xinjiang’s economy. The Washington, DC–based nonprofit research institute C4ADS compared the locations of the factories identified by BuzzFeed News to a database that compiles address information from China’s government registry for businesses. C4ADS identified 1,500 Chinese companies located at or right by the factories. Of those, 92 listed “import/export” as part of the scope of their business. BuzzFeed News found further information about these companies in corporate documents, state media reports, and other public data. According to trade data dating back to 2016, some of these companies have exported goods all over the world, including Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Panama, and France. One company sent pants to California.
[…] Much of the construction since 2017 has been concentrated in Xinjiang’s south and west: the regions with the highest numbers of Uighur and Kazakh people.
The programme is also heavily focused on the south of Xinjiang – over 30% of the factories built in camps since the start of 2017 are in Hotan, a prefecture with a high proportion of Uyghurs. Nearly 20% were in the Uyghur heartland of Kashgar. pic.twitter.com/WHQCj5HqZ1
— Alison Killing (@alisonkilling) December 28, 2020
The report profiled Dina Nurdybai, a young entrepreneur, who fled to Kazakhstan after months of forced labor in a detention camp. From Alison Killing and Megha Rajagopalan for Buzzfeed News:
The former detainees said they were never given a choice about working, and that they earned a pittance or no pay at all. “I felt like I was in hell,” Dina Nurdybai, who was detained in 2017 and 2018, told BuzzFeed News. Before her confinement, Nurdybai ran a small garment business. At a factory inside the internment camp where she was held, she said she worked in a cubicle that was locked from the outside, sewing pockets onto school uniforms. “They created this evil place and they destroyed my life,” she said.
[…] She said she was paid a salary of 9 yuan — about $1.38 — in a month, far less than prevailing wages outside the walls of the detention camp.
[…] Inside the factory building, the floor was divided up, grid style, Nurdybai said. It was not like the factories that she had seen while running her own business. “There were cubicles at about chin height so you couldn’t see or talk to others. Each had a door, which locked,” she said, from the outside. Each cubicle had between 25 and 30 people, she said.
On one occasion, one of the camp staff justified the locked cubicles by saying, “These people are criminals, they can seriously harm you.” Police patrolled the floor of the factory. [Source]
Buzzfeed’s investigation also alleged that workers from Xinjiang were transferred to factories across China. Earlier this year, an Australian Strategic Policy Institute report documented a policy by which over 80,000 Uyghur workers were transferred to factories across China, where they were forced to work while undergoing political indoctrination. Central Party authorities ordered media outlets to stay silent on the allegations. “Do not cover Xinjiang’s organizing of work positions for Uyghurs and other ethnic minority members in the interior,” read the internal propaganda directive. Major American companies and their suppliers have been implicated. A new cache of leaked documents revealed that Apple, which lobbied congress to “water down” a bill cracking down on forced labor in Xinjiang, has benefited from forced Uyghur labor. At The Washington Post, Reed Albergotti reported that Lens Technology—the company that supplies the iPhones’ glass screen—participated in a labor transfer program that used Uyghur workers:
“There’s really no way to give informed consent in Xinjiang any longer because the threat of extrajudicial detention is so extreme,” said Darren Byler, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies Uighur migrants.
[…] Some Uighur workers have told human rights groups that they were given a choice between taking a job in a far-flung factory or being sent to a detention center. In some cases, workers have said that when they “accept” the job, they live in heavily guarded campuses and are rarely allowed to leave. In the evenings, when their shifts end, the Uighur workers say they are forced to take lessons in communist propaganda. Whether the Uighurs are paid, and exactly how much, is unclear.
[…] Labor transfers to Lens Technology go back to at least two years, according to the recently uncovered documents. A notice from the Turpan Human Resources and Social Security Bureau, posted on a Chinese job recruitment site in 2018, announced the planned transfer of 1,000 “surplus urban and rural labor” to Lens Technology. The notice instructs local towns and villages to publicize the effort in order to get voluntary sign-ups. To get a job, applicants must pass a “political review,” according to the posting, carried out by local police and approved by the National Security Brigade. [Source]
Earlier this month, a report documented widespread forced labor in Xinjiang’s cotton industry, which government officials defended as part of China’s poverty alleviation campaign. In response, the United States banned all cotton produced in Xinjiang. But in an interview with The Associated Press’ Ken Moritsugu, Xu Guixiang, an official in Xinjiang’s provincial publicity department, said that China plans to consolidate and expand its Xinjiang policies and dismissed the United States’ cotton ban as ineffectual:
“We cannot be complacent at this moment, because the threats are still out there,” [said Xu.]
[…] Xu said the party is consolidating the measures taken to date and would also explore ways to achieve sustained stability in multi-ethnic border areas such as Xinjiang, a western region about 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) from Beijing. To Xinjiang’s south is Tibet, another region marked by past unrest.
[…] He repeated the government’s vehement denials of forced labor, in which vocational training graduates are allegedly pressured to work in factories both in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China.