Uighurs Forced to Produce PPE for Export, U.S. Issues More Sanctions

Posted: Jul 21, 2020 3:15 PM
Uighurs Forced to Produce PPE for Export, U.S. Issues More Sanctions

Source: (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Footage from a New York Times visual report details Uighur laborers producing face masks and other medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Any company that is procuring masks or other personal protective equipment that wants to avoid forced labor content in those products should not be sourcing them from Xinjiang,” Scott Nova of the Worker Rights Association told the Times.

The Times report found that 47 Xinjiang-based companies expanded operations to supply PPE between the end of 2019, before the pandemic, and June 30. Of the 51 total companies, at least 17 are complicit in Beijing’s scheme to exploit Uighurs for labor. 

A number of the companies export globally, including to the United States.

While Uighur laborers technically receive a wage, most research does not support Chinese claims that employment is voluntary and economically beneficial. 

“There are these coercive quotas that cause people to be put into factory work when they don’t want to be,” said Amy K. Lehr, the director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Times. “And that could be considered forced labor under international law.”

The labor program exists ostensibly to “make people who are hard to employ renounce their selfish ideas,” a Xinjiang labor bureau said in a press statement. In reality, it supplements a larger reeducation initiative intended to secularize and Sinicize the largely Muslim Uighur minority. 

Uighurs often disappear from their homes without forewarning. The leaked “Xinjiang Papers” explain to students upon their return home from study in other parts of China that missing parents were sent to educational and training facilities: “anyone who has been infected by religious extremism must undergo study.” 

A report by an Australian thinktank estimates that China has coerced more than 80,000 Uighurs to participate in the labor program. The factories in which they work contribute to the supply chains of at least 83 multinational brands, including Nike and Apple. 

Additional reports of human rights abuses perpetrated against the Uighurs include torture, mass surveillance, organ harvesting, sterilization, imprisonment and indoctrination.

In response to these reports, the United States has placed 37 firms suspected of participation in the Uighur crisis on a list of dangerous Chinese entities. The latest round of sanctions, issued on Monday, adds 11 additional companies.

“This action will ensure that our goods and technologies are not used in the Chinese Communist Party’s despicable offensive against defenseless Muslim minority populations,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a press statement.

One of the companies, Changji Esquel Textile Co. Ltd, advertises masks on its website and provided the raw materials for special “CU-Masks” commissioned by the Hong Kong government for widespread distribution. 

“Esquel Group is deeply offended by the decision by the U.S. Department of Commerce. We absolutely have not, do not, and will never use forced labor anywhere in our company,” corporate said in a statement.

Yesterday, the UK extended the arms embargo with China to Hong Kong and suspended its longstanding extradition treaty with Hong Kong, citing the “gross, egregious human rights abuses” committed by China against the Uighurs. 

Maajid Nawaz, a British show host, undertook a hunger strike while soliciting signatures for a petition to enact sanctions against China. Nawaz ceased the hunger strike when the petition reached 100,000 signatures yesterday, and Parliament is expected to debate sanctions soon.

The Falun Gong, also a religious minority group with many persecuted members in China, staged a protest in Taipei, Taiwan yesterday, marking the 21st anniversary of Chinese suppression. Five hundred and fifty politicians from 27 countries have signed a Falun Gong statement to condemn the CCP.  

Few majority Muslim nations have voiced the same outrage at the treatment of their Uighur religious brethren. According to Iranian state media, Iranian Ambassador to Russia Kazem Jalali said on Monday that powerful countries, including Russia, China and Iran, should create a “Club of the Sanctioned” to counter U.S. policy.