The streets are awash with protests. The “woke” amongst us are complaining about “systemic racism” and the legacy of slavery, which was abolished in this nation 160 years ago. We are told we must atone and that reparations must be paid.
And, yet, amongst those leading this charge and their corporate sponsors, there is no mention at all of the continued existence of slavery, China’s role in it, or the complicity of American companies in its perpetuation.
The Uyghurs are an ethnic minority within China. They live primarily in Xinjiang Province in the far west and are predominately Muslim. Since 2017, more than a million Uyghurs and members of other Turkic Muslim minorities have been herded into a network of “re-education camps.” In these camps, they are subjected to torture and political indoctrination. The Uyghurs are also used as live transplant donors. They are also forced to renounce their religion. The goal of this exercise is to effectively destroy the Uyghurs as a distinct group and recreate them in the image of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The Chinese government has also begun to move tens of thousands of Uyghurs out of Xinjiang to factories in other parts of China. The Uyghurs are then, against their will, used as what amounts to slave labor to produce products for global brands like Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony, and Volkswagen.
The Uyghurs working in these factories are held in dormitories inside of walled compounds. They are subject to continuous surveillance. Their freedom of movement is limited to the immediate vicinity of the compound where they are housed.
Inside China, Uyghurs are effectively bought and sold to companies looking for slave labor. In many cases, these Uyghurs are “purchased” directly from re-education camps in Xinjiang. In fact, local governments and private brokers are paid a price per head by the Xinjiang provincial government to organize these “sales.”
This business of ‘buying’ and ‘selling’ Uyghurs can be quite lucrative for local governments and commercial brokers. According to a 2018 Xinjiang provincial government notice, brokers were paid $43.25 a head for every Uyghur they placed in a factory outside of Xinjiang. The factories outside Xinjiang who received the Uyghurs also received a government incentive of $144.16 for every Uyghur they “bought.”
Advertisements offering Uyghurs “for sale” appear online in China. In February 2019, a company based in Qingdao published a notice advertising a large number of ‘government-led … qualified, secure, and reliable’ Uyghur workers for transfer to some 10 provinces in China. Another ad claimed the company advertising could supply 1,000 Uyghur workers aged 16 to 18 years. It read: ‘The advantages of Xinjiang workers are: semi-military style management, can withstand hardship, no loss of personnel … Minimum order 100 workers!’ The advertisement also said that factory managers could apply for current Xinjiang police to be stationed at their factory 24 hours a day and that the workers could be delivered within 15 days of the signing of a one-year contract.
Uyghurs “sold” to factories outside Xinjiang are usually transported in special trains under guard. Their dormitory rooms are routinely searched. Their phones are monitored. Anyone attempting to escape is severely beaten.
As of January, of this year there were roughly 600 Uyghur “slaves” working at the Qinqdao Taekwang Shoes Co whose primary customer was Nike. At night those workers attended classes mirroring the curriculum taught in Chinese reeducation camps. Photographs of the facility showed that the factory and its dormitories were surrounded by watchtowers, razor wire, and inward-facing barbed-wire fences.
In February 2018, 63 Uyghurs were sent to a factory owned by the Haoyuanpeng Clothing Manufacturing Co. Ltd. These were the first of what was intended to be a total of 500 Uyghurs working in the factory, which makes products for the Italian–South Korean fashion label Fila, German sportswear companies Adidas and Puma, and Nike. The facility is surrounded by a 3-meter-high fence. The two entrances to the factory are guarded by security checkpoints, and five more security posts monitor the rest of the facility’s perimeter.
In May 2017 700 Uyghurs were transferred from Lop county, Hotan Prefecture, in Xinjiang to work at an OFILM factory in Nanchang, Jiangxi province. Five months later, in October 2017, the Hotan government in Xinjiang contacted OFILM, hoping to supply another 1,300 workers. As of December 2017, there were more than a thousand Uyghur workers at the OFILM factory in Jiangxi. OFILM is a major supplier in Apple’s supply chain and builds cameras for iPhones and Ipads.
Multiple other companies that supply products to Apple employ Uyghur “slave” labor. This includes Foxconn Technology. Foxconn, a Taiwanese company, is the biggest contract electronics manufacturer in the world, making devices for Apple, Dell, and Sony, among others. Its Zhengzhou facility reportedly makes half of the world’s iPhones.
Periodic reports of this ongoing Chinese practice of organized slavery have had no impact. American and other Western companies continue to turn a blind eye to the practice, profit off slave labor, and put dollars before human decency. The Chinese Communist Party meanwhile pretends the practice simply does not exist.
Only days ago, the Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom was confronted on the BBC with drone footage showing bound and blindfolded Uyghurs being herded on to trains in China for movement to an unknown destination. His only response was to wander off into a discussion of how beautiful Xinjiang Province is and then claim all Uyghurs were living in “peace and harmony.”
Slavery is an abomination. That it is occurring outside our view and on the other side of the Pacific does not change that. It is long past time for Americans and American companies to stand up for what is right and put freedom and dignity ahead of profit.
Senator Josh Hawley has announced he will soon introduce legislation requiring American companies manufacturing abroad to certify their supply chains are free of forced labor. That’s a good start. Let’s take it a step further.
Let’s require that certification, and let’s formally bar from doing business in the United States any corporation or entity which cannot produce such certification and documentation to our satisfaction. Let’s kill off any incentive whatsoever for the use of slave labor. Let’s tell America’s new corporate slaveowners their day is done.