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Forced Uyghur LaborForced labor stemming from human rights violations in the Xinjiang province of China has been linked to at least 83 major corporations. In a report released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in February 2020, companies such as Nike, Gap, H&M, Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen all have connections to the use of forced Uyghur labor in China. The report identified 27 factories in China that employ the use of labor transferred from Xinjiang.

Human Rights Violations of the Uyghur Population

Between 2017 and 2019, it is estimated that over 80,000 Uyghurs were moved out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China through labor transfer programs known as “Xinjiang Aid.”  The Chinese government refers to these job assignments as “vocational training” while maintaining that they are part of the “re-education” process assigned to the Uyghur population. These programs have all been identified in connection to the human rights abuses of the Uyghur population as a whole.

It is reported that surveillance tools are being used to monitor the Uyghur population in these programs and to restrict their freedom of movement. Additionally, it has been reported that they are subject to threats, arbitrary detainment and abusive working conditions.

Factories Identified and Company Responses

The companies identified in connection to this forced labor use include international brands that span across the technology, clothing and automotive sectors.

In the technology sector, Apple, Amazon, Samsung, Sony and Microsoft, among others, have been connected to factories that utilize forced labor in China. Amazon has issued a statement saying they do not tolerate the use of forced labor and will be investigating these findings further.

The Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd has been specifically connected to forced labor of the Uyghur population. Workers at this factory also attend a night school that seems to closely resemble the “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang province. Nike is this factory’s primary customer and released a statement saying that the factory has not recruited new workers from Xinjiang since last year and that it is seeking advice on the most responsible path toward handling the employment of the remaining workers from this region.

The Haoyuanpeng Clothing Manufacturing Co. Ltd is also identified as using forced labor. This factory’s corporate website cites partnerships with the companies Fila, Adidas, Puma and Nike. Adidas specifically stated that it does not have a current relationship with the company and is investigating this claim. Nike has also released a statement that it has no current relationship with the factory.

Since the release of ASPI’s report, H&M has ended a relationship with a Chinese yarn supplier due to its ties to forced labor.

The Global Supply Chain

The complexity of the global supply chain has undoubtedly made it more difficult for global corporations to monitor the connections of their suppliers to forced labor in China, but ASPI reached out to all 83 brands included in the report to confirm details of their suppliers as listed in the report.

Unfortunately, companies and consumers are now put at risk by purchasing goods that connect to forced labor. Investors in these 83 companies are potentially at risk as well. U.S. Congress has recently introduced legislation to protect investors through the requirement of disclosure of goods sourced from Xinjiang.

The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition

There are several advocacy groups dedicated to spreading awareness and furthering tangible steps to end the persecution and exploitation of the Uyghur population. The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition has written to 17 companies regarding the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (S. 3471), which is intended to end the use of forced labor from this region in supply chains. The coalition has also issued a call to action that aims for brands to remove all connections with suppliers that have used forced labor. This has been endorsed by investor organizations from more than 35 countries as well as more than 300 Uyghur groups, trade unions and civil society groups.

Ending Forced Uyghur Labor

Though most companies were not aware of the use of forced labor of Uyghurs, along with the awareness that was brought to light, action is also being taken by these companies to show that they do not support forced labor by any means. The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition is doing important work to continue bringing awareness to the issue and to protect the rights of this vulnerable minority population.

– Katherine Musgrave
Photo: Flickr

Beginning along the famed Silk Road’s winding trails, the story of being Uighur in the Xinjiang territory in China is one of lost prosperity and an eternal struggle against the oppression from outside forces.

The Uighur Plight

At the height of the Karahanid Kingdom in 934 A.D., the Uighur were a prosperous people. Their cities were epicenters of philosophical and scientific thought, and the capital city Kashgar was a bastion of Islam. This all ended with the invasion of the Manchu Empire and the eventual takeover of the Chinese Nationalists in 1911.

Xinjiang has since been designated as an autonomous region within China. Despite this, the Chinese government has implemented numerous policies in hopes of assimilating the Uighur people and crushing separatist movements. The Uighurs have now become a minority in Xinjiang as the Han Chinese have become the majority in the region’s urban areas. The Xinjiang have been abetted by government incentives, while the Uighurs have been largely confined to poor rural areas. The wealthy and influential capital city Urumqi is now approximately 75% Han Chinese.

Uighurs in Xinjiang have had their land redistributed to the Han migrants, leaving not enough farming land behind to make a living. According to Reuters, the Uighur people face discriminatory hiring practices with many businesses displaying signs banning them from applying for jobs. This marginalization along with growing poverty among the Uighur people has spurred increased resentment towards Beijing and the ruling Communist Party. In 2001, the Chinese government used 9/11 and the resulting American War on Terror to repress the Uighurs’ desire for independence and begin intense surveillance and military operations.

Surveillance and Re-education

According to Human Rights Watch, Beijing requires officers in the region to use what is called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) as part of the Strike Hard Campaign to track the movements of the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities. The IJOP operating system and app, created by state-owned contractors, is used to aggregate data and flag the location of those deemed potentially threatening. The app tracks the movement of phones and vehicles, alerting officials to what are considered suspiciously long trips. The IJOP app also prompts officials to keep the biometric data of every person, including fingerprints, DNA, and blood type.

The IJOP has become a key component in the next stage in Beijing’s ploy for control, particularly with the implementation of so-called “reeducation camps.” Such camps were created by the Regulations on De-extremification in March 2017, specifically designed to convert Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities to the ideological beliefs of the Communist Party. All forms of traditional religious clothing, literature, and practice are considered extremist and cause for internment in the camps under the regulation. Any form of travel is reason enough for being labeled suspicious and possibly being sent to the camps. People of all ages, male and female, are at risk. Security checks and invasive checks have become part of everyday life in Xinjiang, making it impossible to escape suspicion.

Inside the re-education camps, detainees are forced to learn about the teachings and ideologies of the Communist Party. According to those who have been detained, individuals who fail to comply are punished severely. The penalties range from verbal abuse to food deprivation, solitary confinement, beatings, and the use of restraints and stress positions. Deaths inside the camps have been reported but there is no way to verify how many people have died and the circumstances concerning their deaths. The number of detainees also remains unknown. Estimates are in the hundreds of thousands, possibly nearing one million.

What Is Being Done?

In the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s (CERD) periodic report on China, the committee stated its concern that the poverty rates among ethnic minorities in Xinjiang remain high. CERD also stated its deep concern about “numerous reports of detention of large numbers of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities . . . without being charged or tried.” CERD urged China to halt the unlawful detention of individuals and immediately release those who have been detained.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet is currently seeking access to China to review these reports. However, Chinese officials claim the happiest Muslims in the world live in Xinjiang, as well as assert that “hostile Western forces” are simply misrepresenting and vilifying what is occurring in Xinjiang. The United States is preparing to enact a new round of sanctions against China over this mass imprisonment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. According to the Uyghur Humans Rights Project, these sanctions were previously halted due to trade negotiations with China during the G20 summit but have since been approved by all respective parties within the U.S. government.

Though the current situation for the Uighur people of Xinjiang remains dire, through diplomatic action by the U.N., the United States, and its allies are bringing awareness to the issue. Such dedication by international intervention has presented continued hope. Such hope is for a future where being Uighur in Xinjiang will cease to be a story of systematic oppression and instead will become a story of perseverance through great odds.

– Shane Thoma
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Drones in ChinaChina is a major industrial leader with a booming economy and population. However, upon closer examination, one finds that China has a rampant problem of poverty in its rural regions. Ironically, the areas most impacted are those that tout agricultural prowess. In fact, around five of China’s most impoverished counties are major cotton-producing areas. To help combat this, new and unconventional technologies are providing the solution to low agricultural yields and unsustainable farming practices. Meet drones — the latest in portable flying technology used to aid in the fight against poverty in rural China.

Here are three ways that drones and other networking and communication technologies have taken root in impoverished Chinese communities:

  1. Drones and satellite imagery: Drones monitor the well-being of crops from the sky and assist in spraying chemicals and other supplements. Drones can also take photos of crop fields and relay these images back to farmers. The photos can determine the exact amount of soil, water and other resources needed for their agriculture to thrive. This practice is dubbed as “precision agriculture.” With the help of technology, this technique is increasingly applied to crops like corn and soy in subsistence-based China. More than 55,000 agricultural drones are currently in use in China. They have sprayed pesticides over an estimated 30 million hectares of land, according to the director of the China Agrotech Extension Association.
  2. Boosting yield and incomes: In 2019, nearly 4,500 drones in the Chinese province of Xinjiang accomplished agricultural productivity for 65% of the cotton fields in the region. Although it may seem as though drones are stealing jobs from the average working farmer, their subsequent introduction actually raised Xinjiang’s cotton output by 400,000 tons. An increase of $430 million in revenue is another result of the use of drones. Furthermore, one drone can do the work of sixty farmers in one hour and can spray pesticides 50 to 80 times faster than traditional farming. Thus, an efficient agricultural and harvesting environment is created. Drones essentially stimulate economic growth and support the rural working class in China by removing time and labor costs from the equation, helping farmers escape poverty.
  3. New networks: Drones are well-suited to the rugged farming environment in China. They can fly high above a grassy region or traverse difficult terrains often found within rural regions. These drones have easy adaptability and control through cell phones. This is especially useful for farmers who cannot entirely survey those areas individually. Additionally, farming data from drones has allowed farmers to access weather and disaster warnings, allowing them to prepare in advance. Those features inspired the government to conjure up a new idea: internet towers. China’s Ministry of Commerce employed a widespread plan to apply e-business to over 80% of its villages to combat poverty. Farmers utilize so-called e-commerce service stations, with the help of these newly created network and cable signals, to reach new markets to sell their products. In fact, online retail sales of agriculture have seen a significant yearly increase of 25.3%, with rural areas constituting a majority of this percentage.

The innovative and real-life applications of drones are virtually limitless and present a new way of combating global poverty. This Chinese experiment shows positive results and could soon become emblematic of drone-based agriculture on a much larger scale. In turn, this will help farmers that struggle with low agricultural yields, integrate them into an increasingly tech-based economic environment and lift them out of poverty.

– Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Pixabay

uyghur women
The Uyghur community in China is a suppressed Muslim Turkish minority centered in Xinjiang, a region in Central Asia. Since 2018, the Chinese government has placed up to two million Muslims and Uyghurs in concentration camps due to their cultural identity and religion. Uyghur women in particular face gendered abuses in addition to this mass incarceration.

Uyghur Women Speak Out on Harmful Practices in Xinjiang

Many courageous Uyghur women have come forward to expose the abuses they faced in the so-called re-education camps China has used since 2018. For example, a 38-year-old woman from Urumqi had to have her fallopian tubes tied because she had three children. Under Chinese rule, only two children are allowed per family.

Unfortunately, this is only one of the numerous cases in which Uyghur women have experienced sexual abuse or harassment in China. Experts believe that China has enforced its one-child policy by preventing 400 million births via forced abortions and mandated contraception. Because Uyghur families in Xinjiang are used to having up to 10 children, this rule is especially oppressive toward Uyghur women.

Since 2017, Uyghur families who violated this rule have experienced harsh punishments and violent attacks. In addition, there were 60,000 sterilizations in Xinjiang in 2018. This is about 57,000 more sterilizations than in 2014, when there were only about 3,000 in the region. As a result, Xinjiang’s population has dropped by more than 10% since 2014.

New Evidence

As a result of the stories women came forward with, new documentation has been released about the cruelties of China’s treatment of Uyghurs in concentration camps. Asiye Abdulaheb, an Uyghur woman residing in the Netherlands, joined forces with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to expose 24 pages of documents about the camps. This documentation followed 403 pages detailing the brutalities of Beijing’s concentration camps that were leaked in November 2019. Despite the resistance to China’s camps that followed the release of these documents, the government still denies these accusations. China continues to claim that the concentration camps are just job training centers and nothing more.

Actions to Combat the Oppression of Uyghur Communities

Despite the brutal violence that numerous Uyghur women have endured, many organizations have made strides toward aiding them. The Uyghur Human Rights Project is one such organization. Founded in 2004, the project is a research-based advocacy group dedicated to reporting the abuses faced by many Uyghur families in China.

The One Nation Project, a similar organization, aims to assist Uyghur victims currently living in concentration camps. With over 5 million beneficiaries, the One Nation Project uses donations to deliver food packages to Uyghur families. Other fundraising campaigns also exist to provide aid for Uyghur families. LaunchGood, a crowdfunding platform for Muslims, hosted a fundraiser that raised over $107,000 for Uyghur women and children. So far, the campaign has been able to help cover rent for 67 Uyghur families and has given over 343 monthly allocations to orphans.

Aside from projects and fundraising campaigns, however, there is much more the United States can do to stop the abuse in Xinjiang. One simple step would be ceasing to support forced labor from Uyghur communities. Popular brands such as H&M, Adidas, and Calvin Klein have been found to sell products made by forced Uyghur labor. More than 180 organizations are advocating for banning products made from forced Uyghur labor. Rep. Ro Khana, D-CA, goes further to ask the U.S. government to prohibit the importation of products made in Chinese camps.

Having stronger foreign policies can also allow the United States to obtain more support for Uyghur victims. As of now, the United States has lessened its involvement in the U.N. and has failed to hold China accountable for its abuses against Uyghur women and families. Because China is one of the five primary members of the U.N. Human Rights Council, it has the power to veto any proposal. With greater involvement in the U.N., the U.S. could work against the harmful practices that China conducts in Xinjiang. Foreign involvement in this issue is crucial. If the U.S. leveraged its power, alongside multiple projects and campaigns helping Uyghur victims, the abuses against Uyghur families could stop in the future.

Aishwarya Thiyagarajan
Photo: Flickr