A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), released on Sunday, March 1, revealed that dozens of Uighur Muslims are doing forced labor in Chinese factories that supply 83 major brand name products around the world.
The ASPI document, which cites government reports and Chinese media, reported the existence of a network of 27 factories located in nine Chinese provinces to which at least 80,000 Uighurs from Xinjiang have been relocated, according to Reuters.
“Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labor, Uighurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing, and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony, and Volkswagen,” the ASPI report states in its introduction.
According to the report, Uighurs were moved from the extreme west region of Xinjiang to work in Chinese factories, and some of them were sent directly from detention camps, where more than 1 million Uighurs have been detained so far.
On the other hand, from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs they discredited the report saying that the Chinese government was not involved in human rights violations towards the Muslim ethnic minority.
“This report is just following along with the U.S. anti-China forces that try to smear China’s anti-terrorism measures in Xinjiang,” spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press conference Monday.
Regarding allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang’s detention camps, Chinese authorities have previously tried to minimize the impact of the harsh measures against Uighurs by arguing that they are “free vocational training.”
As the BBC pointed out, general reports since 2018 of arrests in Xinjinag re-education camps by the Chinese regime have indicated that the measures were being carried out to eradicate “violent religious extremism.”
However, evidence shows that people were detained simply for expressing their faith and customs, or for having foreign connections with places like Turkey.
The Chinese regime used such rhetoric over the years against practitioners of the ancient spiritual discipline known as Falun Gong, who have been tortured and persecuted for their faith since it was banned in 1999.
As the ASPI pointed out, the recent transfer of Uighurs to detention camps was done under labor transfer schemes operating under the central regime policy known as Xinjiang Aid, according to the BBC.
The report details that it was “extremely difficult” for Uighurs to refuse or escape from work assignments under the pressure of a threat of “arbitrary detention.” The ASPI added that the Xinjiang government “paid a price per head” to local municipalities to organize the assignments.
According to the ASPI, this is “a new phase of the Chinese government’s ongoing repression” against Uighurs.
“Our report makes it really clear that the dispossession of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang also has a really strong character of economic exploitation,” report co-author Nathan Rusher told the BBC.
The document also points out that Uighurs, who lead a segregated life inside the detention centers, are furthermore forbidden to practice their religion and are forced to learn the Mandarin language.
They are also tracked electronically and cannot return to Xinjiang. Last year Human Rights Watch reported that Chinese regime authorities were using a mass surveillance application to profile, investigate, and arrest Muslims in northwest Xinjiang.
As for the responsibility of foreign companies for which Uighur labor would be hired, the ASPI indicated that they may not be aware of the human rights violations taking place in China.
According to a Nike representative to the Washington Post, the company was “committed to upholding international labor standards globally,” and that its suppliers were “strictly prohibited from using any type of prison, forced, bonded, or indentured labor.”
According to Reuters, the ASPI describes itself as an independent group of experts whose goal is to provide information for the Australian government on defense, security, and strategic policy issues.