Goods from Xinjiang: Tarnished by Forced Labor
This week, the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) announced that it is adding five goods produced by forced labor by Muslim and other ethnic and religious minorities in China to the 2020 edition of its biannual List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. These goods include gloves, hair products, textiles, thread/yarn, and tomato products. These goods join a list of 12 other goods produced in China bringing the total products produced under conditions of forced labor in China to 17.
The People's Republic of China has arbitrarily detained more than one million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in China's far western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Estimates range from at least 100,000 to hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority ex-detainees in China may be working in conditions of forced labor following detention in re-education camps, while many more poor rural workers also may experience coercion without detention. These workers are usually subjected to constant surveillance and isolation. Given the vast surveillance state in Xinjiang and the threat of detention, individuals have little choice but to carry out the work they’re assigned.
These abuses are grave and troubling affronts to human dignity and liberty, especially in a developed nation like China. In addition, they give China an unfair competitive advantage over American workers and businesses.
Uyghurs detained in camps and forced to labor in factories must endure dreadful conditions. In one internment camp in Kashgar, Xinjiang, Uyghur detainees work as forced laborers to produce textiles. They receive little pay, are not allowed to leave, and have limited or no communication with family members. If family communication and visits are allowed, they are heavily monitored or cut short. When not working, the Uyghur workers must learn Mandarin and undergo ideological indoctrination.
ILAB’s research drew on published victims' testimonies, and media and think tank reports, to determine the various industries implicated in this system of forced labor. Given the vast state-sponsored structure in place and the control of information, it is likely that even more goods are produced with forced labor in China.
In July 2020, the U.S. Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security released an advisory for businesses with potential ties to Xinjiang. This business advisory, as well as the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor and ILAB's Comply Chain due diligence app for businesses, are practical guides for raising awareness and addressing this issue.
Companies with supply chains that link to China, including, but not limited to, Xinjiang, should conduct due diligence to ensure that suppliers are not engaging in forced labor. With such severe, well-documented, widespread abuses, it is important that the world remains vigilant with respect to labor and goods linked to Xinjiang, including reasonable measures to guard against complicity in these violations.
As U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia said, “forced labor and abusive child labor are dehumanizing, ruining lives and families.” We have an urgent responsibility to use the tools at our disposal to confront this oppression. While the scale of the abuse is vast and daunting, these actions by the Department of Labor serve as a notice for the world to ask questions, take action, and demand change.
Explore the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor of Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods.
Learn more about forced labor in China at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/against-their-will-the-situation-in-xinjiang.
Lean more about ILAB’s Comply Chain smartphone app at https://www.dol.gov/ilab/complychain/.
Mark Mittelhauser is the Acting Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs.