More Than Half a Million Uighurs Forced to Pick Cotton in China, Report Alleges

More Than Half a Million Uighurs Forced to Pick Cotton in China, Report Alleges


Over half a million Uighur laborers in the Northwestern region of Xinjiang, China, have been forced into hand picking cotton through a government run work scheme, according to new report.

The Center for Global Policy (CGP), a Washington-based think tank, published a report on Monday stating that 570,000 people from Uighur regions in 2018 were forcibly sent to pick cotton under a labor program meant to target minority groups.

“New evidence from Chinese government documents and media reports shows that hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority laborers in Xinjiang are being forced to pick cotton by hand through a coercive state-mandated labor transfer and ‘poverty alleviation’ scheme, with potentially drastic consequences for global supply chains,” the report states.

Xinjiang is home to roughly 11 million Uighors, a predominantly Muslim-Turkic ethnic minority, and produces 85 percent of China’s cotton and 20 percent of the global supply.NEWSWEEK SUBSCRIPTION OFFERS >

According to the CGP findings, the total number of forced laborers picking cotton throughout the region exceeds the reported number “by several hundred thousand.”

The report detailed “grueling” work conditions, and said that workers are heavily surveilled by government officials and police with “military-style management” and political indoctrination.

Adrian Zenz, the author of the research, said it was clear that the work program, which the government initiated to “boost rural incomes,” involved “a very high risk of forced labor.”

“Some minorities may exhibit a degree of consent in relation to this process, and they may benefit financially. However, in a system where the transition between securitization and poverty alleviation is seamless, and where the threat of extralegal internment looms large, it is impossible to define where coercion ends and where local consent may begin,” he wrote.

The report follows a long-standing international and human rights concern alleging that China has placed over 1 million Uighors and other Muslim minorities into detainment camps, and forces people to work against their will.

In 2018, the United Nations said they had credible evidence to suggest China had transformed Uigur regions into “something that resembles a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy, a sort of ‘no rights zone.'”

In October of this year, the U.S. Department of Labor said that Uighur laborers are forced to “endure dreadful conditions” and “receive little pay, are not allowed to leave, and have limited or no communication with family members. If family communication and visits are allowed, they are heavily monitored or cut short.”

But the Chinese government has pushed back against these claims, stating that the camps are vocational training centers meant to fight extremism, and denied all allegations of forced labor.

During a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that there is no “forced labour alleged by certain people with ulterior motives.”

“Helping people of all ethnic groups achieve stable employment is completely different from forced labour,” he added.

Wang said that workers of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang are not discriminated against based on ethnicity, gender or religious beliefs.

But the U.S. government has pushed back against the Xinjiang region for allegations of forced labor.

Earlier this month, the U.S. banned cotton imports from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a powerful cotton company that manages nearly one-third of the cotton sourced in the region.

An additional bill proposing to ban all imports from Xinjiang has yet to pass the U.S. Senate.

Major international clothing brands, including Adidas, Gap and Nike, were accused of using Uighur forced labour in their textile supply chains earlier this year, according to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Newsweek reached out the Center for Global Policy for an additional comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

NPR:China Suppression Of Uighur Minorities Meets U.N. Definition Of Genocide, Report Says

NPR's Scott Simon speaks with China expert Adrian Zenz

July 4, 20207:58 AM ETHeard on Weekend Edition Saturday

  • NPR’s Scott Simon speaks with China expert Adrian Zenz about his research uncovering evidence of birth prevention and mass female sterilization of Uighur Muslims in China.


A new report in Foreign Policy says that China’s suppression of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other chiefly Muslim ethnic minorities in northwest China now meets the United Nations definition of genocide, mass sterilization, forced abortions and mandatory birth control part of a campaign that has swept up more than 1.5 million people and what researcher Adrian Zenz calls probably the largest incarceration of an ethnoreligious minority since the Holocaust. Adrian Zenz joins us from Minneapolis. Mr. Zenz, thanks so much for being with us.

ADRIAN ZENZ: Thank you.

SIMON: Those words are stunning. Outline for us, if you can, what you found.

ZENZ: I was able to uncover dedicated policies by Beijing in the region to systematically suppress birthrates and depress population growth. I uncovered evidence that the Uighurs are subject to internment in camps if they violate birth control policies, have too many children. I also uncovered that there’s tools to implement intrauterine contraceptive devices and other intrusive surgical birth prevention mechanisms in at least 80% of the targeted women.

SIMON: Eighty percent.

ZENZ: That’s the minimum goal for 2019, but I personally believe that the actual was closer probably to 90%.

SIMON: It is notoriously difficult to do research on the Chinese government, and specifically their policies on the Uighur population. How did you conduct the research? Do you trust the data?

ZENZ: I do trust the data, which, as before, comes from different types of Chinese government documents, firstly from the Xinjiang National Health Commission, whose website has subsequently gone offline since the publication of my report, from local prefecture government websites and from county websites. We’re talking budgets with very detailed target indicator figures, reports, policy documents.

SIMON: People need to be careful using the word genocide. Why do you think it’s justified and important to use it now?

ZENZ: I have long argued that the atrocity in the region is a cultural genocide, not a literal genocide. I do continue to believe that, generally speaking, the Chinese government does not intend to physically eradicate the Uighurs and Kazakhs, just to integrate, subjugate, dominate and assimilate them. However, this is coupled with a policy of ethnoracial domination, as the government has brought millions of Han Chinese settler in the regions with promises of high salaries, jobs and free housing.

The reason why now this has changed – we do need to probably call it a genocide – is quite simply because the evidence now, for the first time, very specifically meets one of the five criteria set forth by the United Nations Convention for the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide from 1948, which specifically says the suppression of birth.

SIMON: The U.N. has said that up to 1.5 million Uighurs are in internment camps in China. China says this is to contain the threat of terrorism and to reeducate people in the camps to become better Chinese citizens. Behind those statistics are real human lives that have been upended. I wonder what some of the stories you’ve been able to discover have reached into you the most.

ZENZ: Stories that are among the most harrowing, of course, are stories of abuse, stories of women being caught up by the police and, as they’re being brought to the internment camp, the first thing is that they’re told, you’re going to go on the surgery table, and we’re going to put an intrauterine contraceptive device into your body, because that’s standard policy for women who are put into a camp. Other women report of forced sterilization, of abuse, even accounts of rape.

SIMON: A word like genocide is also supposed to provoke the world to act. What do you believe should or can be done, Mr. Zenz?

ZENZ: I think China needs to face consequences by exclusion or sanctioning from multilateral institutions, either political or possibly economic sanctions, given that we also have a situation of forced labor. I think the international community got to start to think real hard how, with what kind of actions it’s going to back up its professed and supposed moral values.

SIMON: Adrian Zenz is a senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Mr. Zenz, thanks so much for being with us.

ZENZ: Thank you.