BEIJING: Hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority workers in northwest China Xinjiang a region is forced to harvest cotton through a state-run coercive system, a report said.
Research released Monday by Washington’s Global Policy Center will likely put pressure on global brands such as Nike, Gap and Adidas, which have been accused of using Uyghur forced labor in their textile supply chains.
Rights activists say Xinjiang is home to a vast network of out-of-court detention camps that have closed at least one million people, which China has defended as training centers to counter extremism.
The report – which referred to online government documents – said that the total number involved in three major Uighur regions exceeds the 2018 estimates of 517,000 people forced to harvest cotton as part of the hundreds of thousands scheme.
Researchers have warned of the “potentially drastic consequences” of global cotton supply chains, with Xinjiang producing more than 20% of the world’s cotton and about a fifth of the yarns used in the United States from the region.
The BBC reported that it had asked 30 major international brands if they intended to continue supplying Chinese products following the findings – of those who responded, only four said they had a strict policy to require items from anywhere in China do not use raw cotton from Xinjiang.
Beijing He said all detainees had “graduated” from the centers, but reports suggested that many former detainees had been transferred to jobs with low-skilled manufacturing factories, often linked to camps.
However, in the opinion group’s report, participants in labor transfer schemes were supervised by the police, with point-to-point transfers, “military-style management” and ideological training, citing government documents.
“It is clear that labor transfers for cotton harvesting involve a very high risk of forced labor,” wrote Adrian Zenz, who discovered the documents in the report.
“Some minorities may have some degree of consent to this process and may benefit financially. However … it is impossible to define where the constraint ends and where local consent may begin.”
The report also says that there is a strong ideological incentive to implement the scheme, as increasing rural incomes allows officials to meet state-imposed poverty reduction targets.
China has strongly denied the allegations of forced labor Uighur in Xinjiang and says training programs, work schedules and better education have helped eliminate extremism in the region.
When asked about the report on Tuesday, Beijing said that workers “of all ethnicities in Xinjiang sign employment contracts with companies based on their own voluntary choice of employment.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin also attacked the report’s author, Zenz, saying it was “the backbone of an anti-China research organization set up under the auspices of the US intelligence agency, which mainly fabricates rumors against China and defames China. ”
Earlier this month, the United States banned imports of cotton produced by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a major paramilitary entity, which covers about a third of the crop produced in the entire region.
Another bill banning all imports from Xinjiang has not yet passed the US Senate.