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A new report claims the Chinese government is using forced labour at factories, “tainting” global supply chains.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) Uyghurs for sale report alleges a “mass transfer” of ethic minority citizens from the north-west autonomous region of Xinjiang under conditions which “strongly suggest” forced labour.
“Uyghurs are working in factories in the supply chains of at least 83 well known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen,” claims the report.
China’s Uyghur ethnic minority has long been the subject of a government “re-education” programme, with up to a million people in internment camps in Xinjiang, with claims of human rights abuse, including using the camps as manufacturing facilities linked to global food, apparel, and hi-tech supply chains.
And ASPI claims forced labour is not limited to Xinjiang and estimates “more than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred from there to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019” – some “sent directly from detention camps.”
ASPI claims it has exposed a new phase in China’s ‘social re-engineering’ campaign targeting minority citizens: “a state-sponsored labour transfer scheme that is tainting the global supply chain”.
The report highlights three examples of Uyghur workers who “appear to be” employed under forced labour conditions in factories which supply global brands, including a facility “equipped with watchtowers, barbed-wire fences and police guard boxes” in eastern China that manufactures shoes for Nike.
The claims pose new reputation and legal risks for companies and consumers purchasing goods from China, as products “made in any part of the country, not just in Xinjiang”, may have passed through the hands of forced labourers, ASPI said.
According to local media, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has refuted ASPI’s claims. The state-owned Global Times quotes local officials as saying the report was a “nefarious campaign that the west has launched to smear China, and another cock and bull story”.
Furthermore, ZDNet reports claims by numerous technology firms named in the report that there was no evidence of forced labour in their supply chains, while Chinese telecoms giant Huawei attacked ASPI’s funding.
It said: “The plain fact of the matter is that ASPI is currently registered on the Foreign Influence Transparency list, due to the fact it receives huge amounts of its funding from the United States government, and it also receives funding from a large number of US weapons manufacturers.”