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.
"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.
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.”
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.
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.