The Chinese government has sent tens of thousands of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities to work in factories nationwide, which supply goods for at least 83 global brands, a new report says.
A report from the U.S. funded Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that more than 80,000 people had been sent to manufacturing facilities in nine provinces from 2017-19, at times directly from internment camps in the country’s northwestern region of Xinjiang.
The report said those figures are taken from state media and official announcements, so the actual number of individuals sent to such facilities is believed to be much higher.
The report found those who had been transferred were working in conditions “that strongly suggest forced labour.”
In conditions reminiscent of the Xinjiang detention facilities, the laborers were required to live in segregated dormitories, study Mandarin and undergo ideological training while on the clock; were prevented from practicing their faith, experienced constant surveillance, and had limited freedom of movement.
Those allegedly benefiting either directly or indirectly from the forced-labor program include: Amazon, Apple, BMW, Google, Huawei, Mercedes-Benz, Nike, Siemens, and Sony.
The revelations come as the new coronavirus epidemic has gripped China. That has prompted observers to contend that Beijing is using the already vulnerable population to shore up the country’s workforce at a time when tens of millions are under quarantine, sparking factory closures across the country.
“It is clear that the Chinese government is placing these Uyghurs in harm’s way because Uyghur lives don’t matter to China,” Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), told Radio Free Asia.
“There is no guarantee that these Uyghurs will come home alive. China must stop forcing Uyghurs to go to the Mainland and work as cheap labor under the threat of the coronavirus.”
Chinese authorities are thought to have rounded up between 1-3 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, detaining them in camps across the region in a bid to reshape their religious and political worldview.
Authorities in China have characterized the camps as vocational centers intended to provide skills training, helping people find better work and prevent terrorism.
A November 2019 leak of official documents, however, revealed that these facilities were essentially “brainwashing” camps modeled after high-security prisons.
In February, the latest raft of leaks revealed that many of the detained were not suspected of being extremists at all.