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China accused of forcing over half a million people to pick cotton in Xinjiang

China has forced more than half a million Uighurs and other minorities
into picking cotton in the country’s western region of Xinjiang, new
research suggests.

According to a new report released on Tuesday by the Washington-based
Center for Global Policy, three Uyghur regions alone mobilized at least
570,000 people into cotton-picking operations through the government’s
coercive labor training and transfer scheme in 2018.

But the report, which is based on analyses from government documents and
state media reports, predicts Xinjiang’s total labor transfer of ethnic
minorities into cotton picking likely exceeds that figure by several
hundred thousand.

China has previously received international condemnation over reports it
has detained Muslim minorities and forced them into labour, but the
government claims the work is part of a large-scale poverty alleviation
campaign.

Up until now, evidence for forced labor in Xinjiang pertained only to
low-skilled manufacturing, including the production of textiles and
apparel. However, this new report provides evidence for coercion
specifically related to cotton picking.

It also has big implications for global supply chains. Xinjiang produces
around 85 percent of China’s and 20 percent of the world’s cotton, which is
used by fashion companies across the globe.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin refuted the findings of
the report. “Helping people of all ethnic groups secure stable employment
is entirely different from ‘forced labour’,” he told a media briefing in
Beijing, according to Reuters.

He added that nearly 3 million people had been lifted out of poverty in
the region and that all ethnic groups in Xinjiang could choose their
occupations.

Governments must be ‘proactive’ in investigating supply chains

Earlier this month, the US placed a Withhold Release Order on cotton
produced by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.

However, this entity only produces 33 percent of Xinjiang’s cotton and
only 0.4 percent of its highest-quality long-staple cotton, according to
The Center for Global Policy, whose report provides evidence for coercive
labor related to all cotton produced in Xinjiang.

“The US government should put a Withhold Release Order on any product
that contains cotton from any part of Xinjiang, not just cotton produced in
XPCC regions,” The Center for Global Policy said.

“This could be based on a “rebuttable presumption,” similar to the
Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, shifting the burden of proof to those
who seek to use such products in their supply chains.”

The report continued: “Companies should be required to thoroughly
investigate the role of Chinese cotton in their supply chains, even if any
related production takes place outside China, but this by itself is
insufficient. Governments must also be proactive in related monitoring
procedures.”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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