Over half a million of Uighurs are in Xinjiang cotton coerced labour

More than half a million of Uighurs are forced to hand-pick cotton under ‘coercive labour scheme’ in China’s Xinjiang, report claims

  • China sent at least 570,000 Uighurs to pick cotton by hand in 2018, a report said
  • It was allegedly part of a coercive state labour scheme in the Chinese region
  • Beijing has been accused of detaining millions in Xinjiang’s ‘re-education camps’
  • China has defended them as vocational training centres to counter extremism

More than half a million of Uighur labourers in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region are being forced into picking cotton by hand through a coercive state labour scheme, a report has said.

At least 570,000 people in Xinjiang’s three majority-Uighur regions were sent to pick cotton as part of a state-run coercive labour transfer scheme in 2018, according to Washington-based think tank the Center for Global Policy.

Rights activists have said the Muslim-inhabited region is home to a vast network of extrajudicial internment camps that have imprisoned at least one million people, which China has defended as vocational training centres to counter extremism. 

At least 570,000 people in Xinjiang’s three majority-Uighur regions were sent to pick cotton as part of a state-run coercive labour transfer scheme in 2018, according to a report (file photo)

Hundreds of thousands of Uighur labourers in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region are being forced into picking cotton by hand through a coercive state labour scheme, a report has said. In a file photo, workers dry cotton at a sunning ground in Alar, Xinjiang on September 15, 2015

Xinjiang is a global hub for the crop, producing over 20 per cent of the world’s cotton, with the report warning of the ‘potentially drastic consequences’ for global supply chains.

Around a fifth of the yarn used in American comes from Xinjiang.

Beijing said that all detainees have ‘graduated’ from the centres, but reports have suggested that many former inmates have been transferred to low-skilled manufacturing factory jobs, often linked to the camps.

But the think tank said labour transfer scheme participants are heavily surveilled by police, with point-to-point transfers, ‘military-style management’ and ideological training, citing government documents.

Researchers estimate that the total number involved in coerced Xinjiang cotton-picking — which relies heavily on manual labour — exceeds that figure by ‘several hundred thousand’, according to the report published Monday, citing online government documents. 

Xinjiang is a global hub for the crop, producing over 20 percent of the world’s cotton, with the report warning of the ‘potentially drastic consequences’ for global supply chains. Workers make protective suits at a factory of a medical equipment in Urumqi, Xinjiang on January 27

Rights activists have said the Muslim-inhabited region is home to a vast network of extrajudicial internment camps that have imprisoned at least one million people. In this file photo, a guard tower and barbed wire fences are seen around a facility allegedly to be an internment camp in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux, Xinjiang on December 3, 2018

‘It is clear that labour transfers for cotton-picking involve a very high risk of forced labour,’ Adrian Zenz, who uncovered the documents, wrote in the report.

‘Some minorities may exhibit a degree of consent in relation to this process, and they may benefit financially. However… it is impossible to define where coercion ends and where local consent may begin.’

The report also says there is a strong ideological incentive to enforce the scheme, as the boost in rural incomes allows officials to hit state-mandated poverty alleviation targets.

China has strongly denied allegations of forced labour involving Uighurs in Xinjiang, and accused the US of wanting to ‘suppress Xinjiang companies’.

Beijing also says training programmes, work schemes and better education have helped stamp out extremism in the region.

Earlier this month, the US banned imports of cotton produced by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a major paramilitary entity, which covers about a third of the crop produced in the entire region.

Another proposed bill banning all imports from Xinjiang has yet to pass the US Senate.

Several international brands including Adidas, Gap and Nike have been accused of using Uighur forced labour in their textile supply chains, according to a March report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

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