Uyghur Forced Labor in the Cotton Fields: Denial Is Futile, The Evidence Is Here
Game-changing revelations prove irrefutably that China’s cotton trade is stained from start to finish with Uyghur forced labor.
by Ruth Ingram
Added to the scandal of internment camps, extra-judicial incarceration, mass sterilization, and the removal of children into state orphanages, a report released this week cites stark evidence that more than half a million Uyghurs a year, since 2018, have been corralled into the cotton fields, to hand pick the precious “white gold” to bolster China’s lucrative textile industry.
Meticulous trawling through reams of CCP government websites by Adrian Zenz, foremost scholar on the Uyghur atrocities, has proved conclusively that the ready pool of so-called “Vocational School” graduates, now slips seamlessly into the Chinese government’s plan to transfer its most “troublesome” people, from “re-education” to forced labor, under the guise of poverty alleviation.
The very young or very old, who are fortunate enough to have escaped the drag net into the camps, are also swooped up into the back-breaking work amid the so-called “relatives” scheme, whereby a million CCP cadres have wormed their way into villagers’ homes to coerce them into labor; all the while supervising, indoctrinating, and assessing their ideological progress.
Zenz’s report, in collaboration with the US think tank, Centre for Global Policy, strikes at the heart of the CCP’s tarnished manufacturing base and shines the spotlight on companies that continue to do business with China. “The implications of this are sweeping,” says Zenz on his Twitter feed. “The new evidence means that all cotton produced in Xinjiang must be considered potentially tainted with forced labor. This affects 20 per cent of the world’s cotton, and some with the best quality.”
The discoveries also have worldwide ramifications, reports Zenz, since not only yarn and cloth, but also raw cotton exported to numerous other Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Nigeria, is implicated in China’s murky 1.23 billion US dollar industry.
The findings have come on the back of World Human Rights week, when the scandal of abuse meted out to Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in North West China has been raised by campaigning groups. The stark statistics and evidence not only of cruelty through the extensive internment camp system, but also of suffocating control of the wider population through surveillance technology and monitoring of ordinary people in their own homes, have bolstered the catalogue of evidence against the CCP of persecution and indoctrination, which many groups are now deeming tantamount to genocide.
Chloe Cranston of Anti-Slavery International, has welcomed the report. Its findings have added fuel to her charity’s “Call to Action” campaign to persuade the global fashion industry to examine its supply chains and eschew profits from forced labor. Speaking to Reuters this week, she said, “this evidence underlines why businesses must urgently end all sourcing from the region, and why governments must ban imports from the region. There are no arguments for delay.”
Speaking at a webinar last week to highlight the scandal of forced labor in Xinjiang, Cranston said that the time for relying on diplomacy and lightweight persuasion alone was over. “Brands have a responsibility not to profit from forced labor,” she stressed. “Companies need to reassure us that what we are wearing isn’t off the back of Uyghur slavery,” she added. “Some of the major Chinese companies are directly related to the abuses. We can’t just sit around and wait,” she said, urging companies that there was only one way they could purge the stain of forced labor from their brand. “They must exit the region,” she said.
Jewher Ilham, program associate at the US-based employees’ rights tracker, the Workers’ Rights Consortium, addressing the webinar, whose own father, Uyghur, Ilham Tohti is serving a life sentence in China for so-called separatism offences, said that 310 companies had been mustered since July this year in the Call To Action. “But the public needs to be mobilized,” she said. Consumer support was vital in strengthening the movement she urged. If fashion brands such as Zara, which she claims is one of the many companies stained by forced labor, were called out on social media by their fans, “it would make such a difference,” she said.
Leading Jews are also refusing to stay silent in the face of the continuing abuse of the Uyghurs. Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Ephraim Mirvis this week, speaking in the Guardian said, “Can it be true that, in our modern, sophisticated world, men and women are still beaten if they refuse to renounce their faith? That women are forced to abort their unborn children, and are then sterilized to prevent them from becoming pregnant again? That forced imprisonment, the separation of children from their parents and a culture of intimidation and fear have become the norm?”
He said that despite the seemingly impossible task of ridding the world of this atrocity, we should be encouraged by the perseverance that ended the apartheid regime in South Africa.
“At this very moment, an unfathomable mass atrocity is being perpetrated,” he said, “though the task is great, none of us are free to desist from it.” As Nelson Mandela himself said: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
The situation in Xinjiang is getting worse rather than better. It is time for the international community to speak up.
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