PRESS RELEASE: China Must End Forced Labour and Mass Transfer of Uyghur Detainees
The WUC is deeply concerned by the Chinese government’s continued practice of forced labour and the mass transfer of Uyghur prisoners and camp detainees to other parts of China to engage in forced labour. While these policies have predated the current novel coronavirus pandemic, they appear to be escalating and growing in severity. It is increasingly apparent that the Chinese government is using furor and panic caused by the current pandemic, to carry out these mass transfers and increase its use of Uyghur forced labour without scrutiny or attention from the international community.
Since the deadly virus began to spread across the world, due to the CCP’s initial mismanagement, censorship and lack on transparency about the virus, numerous reports and firsthand information have evidenced that thousands of Uyghurs (including detainees from the internment camps and political prisoners) are being transferred to other parts of China to forced labour facilities. Credible reports have also indicated that many Uyghurs were sent to forced labour facilities in the Hubei province, the epicenter of the virus, to work in factories as the rest of the province was forced into lockdown.
The current pandemic and blatant disregard for the health and well-being of Uyghur people held in arbitrary detention by the Chinese government, makes this issue especially urgent. The use of Uyghur forced labour and mass transfer of Uyghur detainees from internment camps during this pandemic has put thousands of innocent lives at risk. The WUC has repeatedly expressed it utmost concerns that the millions of Uyghurs held in internment camps are at significant risk due to the pandemic and that many Uyghur households are facing food shortages due to the failure of the CCP to deliver food to families who are not allowed to leave their homes. Despite numerous calls, there has been no transparency in the Chinese government’s response to the pandemic in East Turkistan and almost no reliable information about the status of the camp detainees or the current situation has been released.
The little information that has evaded CCP censorship has shown that the Chinese government has put Uyghur lives at risk by pushing ahead with the mass transfer of Uyghurs and use of forced labour in the middle of this pandemic. Many videos showing hundreds of Uyghurs wearing identical uniforms and being forced onto trains have been shared on social media. While it has not been possible to confirm the veracity and origin of all these videos, due to strict Chinese censorship and acts of reprisals against those who share information, the WUC believes they are credible. They show identical circumstances and add to the growing body of evidence that Uyghurs detained in internment camps have been transferred to other parts of China in large numbers since at least July 2019.
The use of forced labour and the transfer of camp detainees and prisoners have been ongoing for years. The Chinese government used forced labour camps throughout much of its contemporary history, but efforts have focused on the Uyghur people in particular in recent years as the CCP seeks to assimilate the Uyghur people and turn them into a loyal source of cheap labour.
A recent report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Uyghurs for sale: ‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang, has evidenced that at least 80,000 Uyghurs are now being held in 27 forced labour facilities in 9 provinces in China. Uyghurs held in these facilities are forced to work against their will with little to no pay (in what is essentially slave labour). Uyghurs in these facilities are not able to freely practice their religion, contact their family members or leave their facilities of their own will. As was the case in the internment camps, ASPI reports that they are subjected to political indoctrination classes and forced to learn Mandarin Chinese. They are being denied their most basic rights and freedoms and are forced to make products, many of which are being bought and sold by Western companies. The ASPI report has identified 83 major Western companies who are responsible for using Uyghur forced labour in their production, including Nike, Apple and Volkswagen. This is in addition to Badger Sports and Cotton On and Target Australian cotton, which had previously faced similar allegations.
After the ASPI report and increased reporting on this issue, some initial steps have been taken to address this crime against humanity. An urgency resolution passed by the European Parliament in December 2019 contained a number of provisions calling on European companies to be held accountable for any complicity in Uyghur forced labour and asked them to review their supply chains. Legislation is currently being considered in the US (the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act) which would require all US companies operating in East Turkistan to prove that their operations there were not using forced labour. A number of other Western companies have voluntarily offered to review their supply chains in China and there is growing momentum to ensure they are not using forced labour. While these efforts are appreciated, they are not sufficient to address this mounting crisis.
“For three years, millions of our friends and family have disappeared and been detained in internment camps and now more and more are being sent to forced labour facilities. The Uyghur community wants the suffering of the Uyghur people in East Turkistan to stop, not move to a new phase,” said WUC President Dolkun Isa. “The Chinese government treats us as if we were cattle, to be caged, bought and sold with no regards for our humanity or autonomy. This has to stop.”
Despite these initiatives to end forced labour and the increasing attention to the complicity of Western companies in using Uyghur forced labour in their supply chains, the practice is only increasing. The mounting evidence of mass transfers of Uyghur prisoners and camp detainees shows that this inhuman practice is only getting worse. If urgent action is not taken by national governments, companies with supply chains in China and by the international community, thousands and possibly millions of Uyghurs who have been enduring years of arbitrary detention, torture and indoctrination in internment camps may find no relief. If forced labour and mass transfers of Uyghurs are not stopped, China’s crimes against humanity may take a new face and the suffering of the Uyghur people will continue unabated. The Chinese government is endangering millions of lives by pushing ahead with its inhuman measures against the Uyghur people, even in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
Given this, the WUC urges relevant actors to take the following steps to bring an end to forced labour and the mass transfer of Uyghurs in China:
- Private companies must take immediate steps to ensure they are not profiting from young Uyghurs who are being sent into harm’s way in inner China to make up for the loss in production through forced labour, including:
- Reassessing their engagement and production in China and East Turkistan and investigating their supply chains.
- Ensuring compliance with national and international laws on ethical business practices, especially the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
- Creating a robust human rights due diligence system to make sure they are not implicated in forced labour or complicit in serious human rights violations against Uyghurs.
- Cease all engagement with Chinese companies and entities found to be complicit in human rights violations and repressive acts against Uyghurs.
- Strengthening cooperation and consultation with civil society about forced labour programs and the violations of human rights in East Turkistan.
- National governments must hold actors in the private sector responsible for their engagement in China and take active measures to ensure they are not profiting from or guilty of using Uyghur forced labour.
- Products made by using forced labour in China should be banned from markets.
- Private actors that continue to profit from forced labour should be held accountable.
- Chinese companies proven to be complicit in serious human violations against Uyghurs should be blacklisted and face appropriate sanctions.
- National legislation should be passed to appropriately address this issue.
- China must allow UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet immediate and unfettered access to East Turkistan in order to investigate serious human rights violations in the region including forced labour and the transfer of detainees, as the Chinese Mission to the UN promised during the 43rd UN Human Rights Council Session.