More than 80,000 Uyghurs in coerced labor across China — report

Foreign Affairs

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute published an important report into a labor program in China called Xinjiang Aid, where ethnic minority Uyghurs are transferred to factories across the country under coercive conditions. More than 80,000 Uyghurs were put into the program from 2017 to 2019, the report says.

Photo credit: Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has published a new report titled “Uyghurs for sale.” This is what it finds:

The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country.

Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labor, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen.

This report estimates that more than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019, and some of them were sent directly from detention camps.

The labor transfer program is known as Xinjiang Aid (援疆 yuán jiāng), and the government has not been shy about its increasing ambition: Public reports of how many “rural surplus laborers” have been transferred out of Xinjiang show the numbers rising from 20,859 in 2017 to 28,000 in 2018, and 32,000 in 2019. Many more have been transferred within Xinjiang in similar coercive labor schemes, as SupChina’s columnist Darren Byler has documented.

The official justification for the labor transfers is “poverty alleviation.” However, extensive evidence indicates that the Xinjiang Aid program is effectively an extension of the re-education drive in Xinjiang itself. In one instance, as Uyghurs were transferred to a factory making cameras for Apple iPhones in Jiangxi Province, a state media report said the workers were expected to “gradually alter their ideology” and “understand the Party’s blessing, feel gratitude toward the Party, and contribute to stability.”

Separate and unequal in the factories

One of the larger factories implicated in the labor transfer program is Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co., where about 600 Uyghurs are part of a thousands-strong workforce that produces approximately 8 million pairs of shoes for Nike annually. Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield has a report from the ground outside that factory:

“We can walk around, but we can’t go back [to Xinjiang] on our own,” said one Uyghur woman in broken Mandarin as she browsed the street stalls at the factory gate on a recent afternoon…

Everyone knows they didn’t come here of their own free will. They were brought here,” said one fruit-seller as she set up her stall. “The Uyghurs had to come because they didn’t have an option. The government sent them here,” another vendor told The Washington Post… 

The Uyghurs are segregated from the Han workers, both physically and by language, according to more than a dozen local merchants and workers who spoke to The Post about the situation inside the factory.

Fifield was later “surrounded by seven police officers, questioned, and ordered to leave town.”

For more on coerced labor for Uyghurs and the situation in Xinjiang, see:

—Lucas Niewenhuis