SARA ALTUWAIJRI WRITES – In 2017, China’s government incarcerated one million Uyghurs, an ethnic Muslim minority, in “re-education camps.” Between 2017 and 2019 the Chinese government transferred around 80,000 Uyghurs from Xinjiang to factories across China, where they undergo forced labour in the service of 83 major international brands to help supply technology, clothing,and automobiles. Manufacturers using Uyghur workers include: Apple, Nike, Adidas, Amazon, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, Zara, H&M, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria’s Secret, Volkswagen, Jaguar,Mercedes-Benz, and BMW, among others.
Many of the Uyghurs are facing severe, forced, discriminatory and abusive labor conditions. They are intimidated by threats of arbitrary detention and threats to their families in order to force them to continue working. They are subject to physical barriers, including barbed wire fences; monitored by digital surveillance; placed in dormitories isolated from the outside world; and transported by train from their dormitories to factories.
Additionally, they undergo abusive working conditions that include military style guard posts in factories. Furthermore, they are working excessive hours and, in addition, having to take after work classes in Mandarin as well as political indoctrination. All this is part of their job. Finally, the Uyghur workers are paid less and are prohibited from practicing their religion.
It is extremely difficult for them to escape or refuse their assigned work within these factories due to excessive surveillance and punishment. It doesn’t seem to matter what is legal. Many of the big international manufacturing corporations have codes of conduct that prohibit the use of forced labor, yet companies fail to monitor who is making their products and under what conditions. Research has in fact shown that audits fail to catch labor abuses because workers are reluctant to speak openly when interviewed, especially when a manager or other authority is close by. On the other hand, the auditing industry was criticized last year for protecting companies that use forced labor rather than protecting workers. The ASPI (Australian Strategic Policy Institute) recommends that China open its factories to allow investigations of labor practices within the country. Additionally, the institute says, there should be grievance mechanisms to open up investigations into reports of forced labor.
Last – and most certainly not least – the Chinese people should be given the right to practice their religion freely, and be treated as citizens rather than slaves.