More than 80,000 Uighurs sent to work in factories across China, report finds

An Australian report has found that at least 80,000 Uighur workers have been sent to work in factories across China used by a number of global brands.

A building believed to be a forced indoctrination camp in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region.

A building believed to be a forced indoctrination camp in Artux in western China's Xinjiang region. Source: AAP

Tens of thousands of Uighur Muslims have been removed from the Xinjiang region and made to work in factories across China, an investigation from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has found.

The ASPI report, released on Sunday night, used open-source documents, satellite imagery and media reports to identify 27 factories using Uighur labour. 

Those factories have been linked to 83 well-known global brands, including Nike, Amazon, Google, H&M, Adidas, and Apple.

More than 80,000 members of Chinese-Muslim minorities were estimated to have been transferred under a program known as Xinjiang Aid between 2017 and 2019, the report said, with some moved directly from re-education camps to factories.

Despite leaving Xinjiang region where Uighurs face heavy surveillance, the report also found workers continued to be prevented from practicing their religion, were forced to attend Mandarin classes, undertake "patriotic education" and were tracked physically and electronically.

"Every 50 Uighur workers are assigned one government minder and are monitored by dedicated security personnel," the report stated.

"They have little freedom of movement and live in carefully guarded dormitories, isolated from their families and children back in Xinjiang."

The institute said it was unable to confirm all of the transfers were forced, but that a number of cases showed signs of "highly disturbing coercive labour practices".

In one case study presented in the report, about 600 ethnic minority workers from Xinjiang were transferred to the Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co factory in January this year.

The workers - mostly women from the Hotan and Kashgar prefectures - spend their days producing Nike shoes, before attending "patriotic education" classes in the evening. The factory is Nike's largest manufacturer of shoes, producing about seven million pairs per year.

According to the Washington Post, who visited the factory in Laixi City in China’s Shandong province, the workers from Xinjiang are largely unable to speak Mandarin and are kept separate from other employees, including eating at a different cafeteria. 

A Nike spokesperson told the Washington Post the company “respects human rights in our extended value chain, and always strive to conduct business ethically and responsibly". 

The International Labour Organisation defines forced labour as situations when people are coerced to work through the use of "violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities".

Uighur workers face the threat of being returned to mass detention camps, which the United Nations estimate house more than one million people, if they do not cooperate, ATSI said. 

Chinese state media has denied the use of forced labour from Xinjiang and claims participation in the program is voluntary. 

The Chinese Communist Party has also repeatedly defended the mass detention of Muslim minorities in what they say are vocational training centres, claiming that most of the detainees had been released after "graduating".

Appearing on ABC's Q+A program last week, China's deputy ambassador to Australia said many of the Uighurs within the camps were there voluntarily because the Xinjiang region "was contaminated by terrorist and radical ideas".

"It's a training centre. People get to be prepared for future jobs," Minister Wang Xining said.

The report recommended that multinational companies be allowed access to investigate any instances of "abusive or forced labour practices" in Chinese factories and that all companies identified as using Uighur labour undertake checks of their factory labour.

The full list of brands identified by ASPI as benefitting from the use of Uighur workers:

  • Abercrombie & Fitch
  • Adidas
  • Alstom
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • ASUS
  • BAIC Motor
  • BMW
  • Bombardier
  • Bosch
  • BYD
  • Calvin Klein
  • Candy
  • Carter's
  • Cerrutti 1881
  • Changan Automobile
  • Cisco
  • CRRC
  • Dell
  • Electrolux
  • Fila
  • Founder Group
  • GAC Group (automobiles)
  • Gap
  • Geely Auto
  • General Electric
  • General Motors
  • Google
  • H&M
  • Haier
  • Hart Schaffner Marx
  • Hisense
  • Hitachi
  • HP
  • HTC
  • Huawei
  • iFlyTek
  • Jack & Jones
  • Jaguar
  • Japan Display Inc.
  • L.L.Bean
  • Lacoste
  • Land Rover
  • Lenovo
  • LG
  • Li-Ning
  • Mayor
  • Meizu
  • Mercedes Benz
  • MG
  • Microsoft
  • Mitsubishi
  • Mitsumi
  • Nike
  • Nintendo
  • Nokia
  • The North Face
  • Oculus
  • Oppo
  • Panasonic
  • Polo Ralph Lauren
  • Puma
  • Roewe
  • SAIC Motor
  • Samsung
  • SGMW
  • Sharp
  • Siemens
  • Sketchers
  • Sony
  • TDK
  • Tommy Hilfiger 
  • Toshiba 
  • Tsinghua Tongfang
  • Uniqlo
  • Victoria's Secret
  • Vivo
  • Volkswagen
  • Xiaomi
  • Zara
  • Zegna
  • ZTE

Published 2 March 2020 at 1:27pm
By Maani Truu