A disturbing new report claims that between 2017 and 2019, China coerced at least 80,000 Uighur Muslims and others from ethnic minority groups to work in factories across China that supply dozens of popular global brands.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a foreign policy think tank that published its findings Sunday, says the estimated number of people affected is conservative, with the real tally “likely to be far higher.”
The report identified 27 factories that supply 83 well-known global brands, including Nike, Apple, H&M, Sony, Samsung, Dell and other major companies across a range of industries.
One such factory, which employed around 600 ethnic minority workers from China’s western Xinjiang region as of January, produces more than 7 million Nike shoes annually. The workers were sent by local authorities in groups of 50 to work far from home, according to The Washington Post, and they were not allowed to return home for holidays.
Another factory that produces “selfie cameras” for Apple iPhones took in 700 such workers in 2017. The workers “were expected to ‘gradually alter their ideology’ and turn into ‘modern, capable youth’ who ‘understand the Party’s blessing, feel gratitude toward the Party, and contribute to stability,’” the report stated, citing a local newspaper.
China drew international condemnation when the United Nations determined in 2018 that millions of Muslims living in Xinjiang were forced from their homes into extrajudicial detention camps for “reeducation” ― an effort to forcibly assimilate them.
China asserts this is an effort to combat religious extremism.
The ASPI called the factory labor a “new phase” in China’s mass Muslim detention program. The country claimed late last year that its detainees had “graduated.”
According to the report, however, some of the detainees were transferred directly from their camps to factories. It cited “mounting evidence” that many Uighurs are being forced to work in factories within Xinjiang and in other provinces “under a revived, exploitative government-led labour transfer scheme.”
“It is extremely difficult for Uyghurs to refuse or escape these work assignments,” the report states, using an alternate spelling of Uighur. “In addition to constant surveillance, the threat of arbitrary detention hangs over minority citizens who refuse their government-sponsored work assignments.”
Local governments and “private brokers” are “paid a price per head” for procuring Uighur laborers, the ASPI says.
The Uighurs and Muslim minority workers are forbidden from participating in religious observances, forced to learn Mandarin and undergo “ideological training” outside of their normal work hours, the report states.
“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,” the report’s co-author Nathan Ruser told the BBC.
He added: “We have this unseen and previously hidden contamination of the global supply chain.”
Nike, Apple and Samsung did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment. Nike spokeswoman Sandra Carreon-John told The Washington Post that “we respect human rights in our extended value chain, and always strive to conduct business ethically and responsibly.”
“We are committed to upholding international labor standards globally,” she continued in her statement to the paper, adding that suppliers are “strictly prohibited from using any type of prison, forced, bonded or indentured labor.”
Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock told the Post that “Apple is dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our supply chain is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Dell told HuffPost the company “regularly conducts due diligence of our supply chain,” a process that includes audits based on criteria from the Responsible Business Alliance. “When there are issues or allegations made, we immediately investigate using all available resources,” a Dell spokeswoman said.
Similarly, H&M said it was “deeply concerned” about the report and is “in close dialogue with human rights experts, other brands, and stakeholders, to evaluate how we can further strengthen our due diligence.”
Sony initially responded to say it does not comment on “the specifics of our business transactions.” Later, the company said it conducts “regular assessments” of companies in its supply chain.