In Xinjiang, authorities have detained more than 1 million Uyghurs in detention camps. It is the largest mass internment of an ethnic-religious minority group since World War II. A new report issued by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute states that between 2017 and 2019, more than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred from the Xinjiang autonomous region to work in factories across China. At least 27 factories are using laborers from Xinjiang which potentially have connections to the supply chain for 83 global brands.
On Monday, the United States blocked four companies and a manufacturing facility in northwestern China from shipping their products to the U.S. due to concerns about forced labor and religious freedom violations aimed toward Uyghur and other Muslims. U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued orders freezing imports from companies that produce cotton, clothing and computer parts in the Xinjiang region of northwestern China.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection also halted imports of hair products made at a manufacturing facility where authorities believe Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are forced to work. The Administration said it has plans to add curbs on six more firms and target cotton, textiles and tomatoes from the area by the end of the fiscal year.
Xinjiang produces more than 80% of China’s cotton and the U.S. imports some 30% of its apparel from China. According to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and other reports, dozens of American and international companies are suspected of directly employing or sourcing from suppliers that use forced labor involving thousands of Uyghur and other Muslims. The US also added 11 Chinese companies to the Entity List in July because of their ties to human rights abuses in Xinjiang, which means those companies can’t easily access US technology or goods.
What’s driving this aggressive ramp up in manufacturing and the use of forced labor? China’s leader, Mr. Xi, has pledged to end poverty nationwide in 2020, and Xinjiang officials face intense pressure to create jobs. Due to factory shutdowns as a result of Covid-19, that pressure has increased. The labor programs depend on luring companies from China’s wealthier eastern seaboard, where fewer young people want to work on production lines. Xinjiang has offered manufacturers inexpensive labor (forced laborers) along with tax breaks and subsidies. The CCP has now said that by late 2023, Xinjiang wants one million working in its textile and garment industries.
As more reports of the atrocities happening in Xinjiang are revealed, the international community is grappling with how to punish China for its abuses.
Groups working on international religious freedom issues have added their voice to a coalition of civil society organizations and trade unions calling for fair labor practices. Spearheaded by 21Wilberforce and other organizations working through the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, religious freedom advocates are asking Congress to quickly pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (H.R.6210 / S.3471). This legislation would make it more difficult for products produced by people enslaved by the CCP because of their faith to enter Western markets.
Last month, at an Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission panel on human rights abuses in China, Nury Turkel, a Uyghur American attorney born in Xinjiang and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, shared that forced labor has been “part of Uighur life” for as long as he can remember.
“It’s one of the methods, one of the vehicles the Chinese used to repress the Uyghur religion and Uyghur culture,” he said. “When you buy anything made in China, if it’s a textile cotton product, I think it should be something that gives you pause. As a consumer, please do your due diligence. Please stop at least buying any cotton or textile products coming from China … this should be something easy to tackle.”
21Wilberforce encourages Americans to reach out to their representatives in Congress and ask them to enlist more co-sponsors, give speeches, and make statements in support of not letting the Communist Party exploit and profit from religious discrimination and slavery. All people are created in God’s image and have innate dignity and worth, and deserve to be treated with respect. You can stand with the Uyghurs by praying for them and the horrors occurring in the camps . You can also share our free online tool in our freedom center that directly connects Americans with their representatives in Congress.