Evidence of Forced Labour in China’s Xinjiang Region ‘Deeply Troubling,’ UK Says

December 16, 2020 Updated: December 17, 2020

Research published by a Washington-based think tank has confirmed that at least 570,000 Uyghurs were forced to pick cotton in China’s Xinjiang region through the government’s coercive labour training and transfer scheme.

The number is calculated based on the three major Uyghur regions and would “easily add tens of thousands, more likely hundreds of thousands, to this figure,” when including prisoners and other ethnic minority regions, confirmed by the Center For Global Policy.

“Evidence of forced Uyghur labour within Xinjiang, and in other parts of China, is credible, it is growing and deeply troubling to the UK government,” foreign office minister Nigel Adams told parliament.

Adams said firms had a duty to ensure their supply chains were free of forced labour.

Xinjiang produces 85 percent of China’s and 20 percent of the world’s cotton, which is widely used throughout the global fashion industry and its supply chains.

“UK businesses must now wake up to these disturbing realities,” said Nusrat Ghani MP, lead Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee member for the Forced labour in UK value chains inquiry.

Xinjiang’s mobilisation of minority cotton pickers involves state-sponsored coercion in the annual process of mobilising hundreds of thousands of local people, who are usually transferred in tightly supervised groups, where they are watched on site by government officials and sometimes by police officers. According to the report, centralised childcare and elderly care are also arranged to “free them to leave their homes for two months.”

“Xinjiang’s motivation for coercive labour is not just economic. A key goal is to keep minorities occupied and shrivelled,” says the report written by Dr. Adrian Zenz, Senior Fellow in China Studies at Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

China has received international condemnation over previous reports on its forced labour practices.  As of 2018, Human Rights Groups estimated at least over one million Uyghur Muslims have been detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang, where they are brainwashed and tortured.  These camps are operated by the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region government and its Chinese Communist Party committee.

Over 380 sites in the detention network across Xinjiang have been identified and mapped, counting only re-education camps, detention centres, and prisons that were newly built or significantly expanded since 2017, confirmed by ASPI researcher Nathan Ruser.

In the United States the Trump administration steeped economic pressure on Xinjiang as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency confirmed on December 2 their “Withhold Release Order” would ban cotton and cotton products from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), one of China’s largest producers.

Previous evidence showed Xinjiang’s forced labour pertained to textile and apparel manufacturing. This report provides new evidence for the coercion of labour directly in the cotton fields in the region.

“Cotton slave trade is once again violently forced on the Uyghur. No firm should be profiting from slave labour. No excuse,” Nus Ghani MP wrote on Twitter.

Reuters contributed to this report.