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Forced labour of Uighur people exposed as world urged to act

18 December 2020

New report condemns ‘tainted’ cotton from Xinjiang province


A cotton field in Hami City, Xinjiang, in October

A cotton field in Hami City, Xinjiang, in October

MORE than half a million Uighur and other Muslim minority inhabitants of China are being forced to pick cotton by hand, according to new research.

The Xinjiang region of China, which is home to the Uighur people, produces 20 per cent of the world’s cotton, but a new report by the Center for Global Policy says that the cotton is “tainted” by forced labour and human-rights abuses.

The report was compiled by Adrian Zenz, who uncovered new evidence in online government policy documents which show that, in 2018, in three regions of Xinjiang, 570,000 Uighur people were sent for cotton picking through the Chinese government’s labour training and transfer scheme. Some are transported to fields hundreds of miles away to do the picking. A policy document that refers to “guiding” the pickers to “consciously resist illegal religious activities” indicates that the policy is aimed at minority Muslim communities.

The research into the scale of forced labour in the province was published this week even as the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled that it could not investigate allegations of crimes of genocide in Xinjiang. Exiled Uighurs had handed a dossier of evidence to the ICC, asking it to investigate crimes against humanity and genocide, but the court said that it was unable to do so, as the alleged crimes happened inside China, which is outside the court’s jurisdiction.

More than one million Uighur and other members of minorities are thought to have been detained in detention camps, where they are forced to undergo “re-education” and enforced loyalty to the Communist party.

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, asked in the House of Lords if the Government had investigated whether forced labour by Uighur people was used in the production of some orders of PPE purchased by the UK this year.

The Government said that the PPE in question was donated by a charity, and was a fraction of the overall PPE bought by the Government. If allegations of modern slavery were proven in connection with the PPE, it would “consider all available options”, it said.

Dr Smith said later: “Even if only a small fraction of PPE was produced by Uighur forced labourers, it is not good enough.”

The Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, writing in The Guardian on Tuesday, said that “an unfathomable mass atrocity is being perpetrated”, and called for an urgent investigation into what was happening in Xinjiang.

He continued: “The freedoms we enjoy, coupled with a perception that nothing we do will help, often create a culture of apathy. Time and again, history has taught us that it is precisely such apathy that permits hatred to flourish. The Talmud teaches that: ‘We are not expected to complete the task, but neither are we free to desist from it’. . .

“At this very moment, an unfathomable mass atrocity is being perpetrated. Though the task is great, none of us is free to desist from it. As Nelson Mandela himself said, ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’”

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