China’s forced labor campaign in Xinjiang

Uyghur trainees work in a garment factory at the Hotan Vocational Education and Training Center in Xinjiang. (CCTV)

By Leigh Hartman
Sep 12, 2019

The Chinese government is forcing Uighurs and other ethnic minorities to work in factories in Xinjiang province for little or no pay and under cruel working conditions.

Detained Uighurs are subject to “physical and psychological torture, intense political indoctrination, and forced labor,” U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said in a speech in June.

This forced labor campaign is part of the Chinese government’s ongoing oppression of Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslims in Xinjiang province.

Uighurs and Kazakhs are part of the Turkic ethnic group and are culturally, linguistically and religiously distinct from China’s ethnic Han majority.

Since 2017, Chinese authorities have imprisoned more than 1 million of these ethnic minorities in internment camps throughout Xinjiang as part of a campaign to eliminate their culture and religion.

Controlling the population

According to reports, some of the factories that China’s authorities force Uighurs to work in are inside the detention camps in Xinjiang province, while others are nearby.

“The government subjects many of these individuals to forced labor in on-site or adjacent factories producing garments, carpets, cleaning supplies, and other goods for domestic and possibly international distribution,” according to the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report.

Though China says detainees are in the camps to receive vocational training, many inmates already had jobs, often professional positions such as teaching, and some ran successful businesses.

Inside the factories, conditions are not much better than in the detention camps. The government forces detainees to study the Chinese language and undergo political indoctrination.

What’s more, “the government provides police forces and special instructors so that the factory is run in a ‘semi-military-style management’ fashion,” says independent researcher Adrian Zenz in a recent report.

The Xinjiang provincial government touts the availability of cheap labor to attract business to the region.

“Government documents blatantly boast about the fact that the labor supply from the vast internment camp network has been attracting many Chinese companies to set up production in Xinjiang,” Zenz says.