A huge game-changer’: Report says more than 570,000 Uighurs forced to pick cotton
More than 570,000 Uighurs have been pressed into forced labour in Chinese cotton fields, according to a report published on Monday. These revelations are a “game-changer” and any person or business involved in these supply chains has to “divest”, Adrian Zenz, the researcher behind the report, told FRANCE 24.
The research published on December 14 by Washington-based think tank the Center for Global Policy follows years of investigations by human rights activists showing that Xinjiang is home to a vast network of camps where at least 1 million people have been imprisoned.
The report – which used Chinese regime documents available online – said the total number involved in three majority-Uighur regions exceeds a 2018 estimate of 517,000 people forced to pick cotton as part of the scheme by tens of thousands.
“We have evidence from government documents that in 2018 the state transferred well over half a million Uighurs, and it’s a scheme that was set up by [Xinjiang] Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, the same person who set up a police state and mass internment of people in camps,” Zenz, a Senior Fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, told FRANCE 24.
“The problem is very deep because the Chinese state is trying to put the Uighurs to labour; they need to be busy and preoccupied,” Zenz continued. “Children are being separated from their parents in boarding schools; parents are being put full-time work because if you work full-time in a factory or in a cotton field you can’t go to a mosque and you can’t participate in traditional religious or community activities.”
“Evidence shows that government work teams – 70,000 officials each year – are descending on Uighur villages; they’re asking in advance how many people are needed to pick cotton in the fields,” Zenz said. “They go to every household and perform a short indoctrination. Accounts show that lots of elderly Uighurs are lined up to pick cotton because so many of the younger ones are in internment camps.”
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The report puts pressure on major companies such as Nike, Gap and Adidas, which have been accused of using Uighur forced labour in their textile supply chains.
“This is a huge game-changer,” Zenz said. “Anybody who cares or who claims to have anything ethical in their business and supply chains has to divest.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed the allegations.
“Helping people of all ethnic groups secure stable employment is entirely different from forced labour,” he told a media briefing in Beijing, saying that nearly 3 million people had been lifted out of poverty in Xinjiang.
Click on the player above to watch FRANCE 24’s interview.