More than 570,000 Uighurs 'forced into China cotton picking camps': report

More than 570,000 Uighurs 'forced into China cotton picking camps': report
Researchers believe that the actual number of Uighurs suspected of being forced into the cotton picking industry could be hundreds of thousands higher.
3 min read
15 December, 2020
Xinjiang cotton accounts for more than 20 percent of global supply [Getty/ Archive]

More than half a million Uighur Muslims in China's northwestern Xinjiang province are suspected of being forced into the cotton picking industry as part of a large-scale state labour programme, according a report released on Monday.

The Center for Global Policy (CGP) report stated that online Chinese government documents and media reports show that at least 570,000 people were sent from Uighur-majority regions to pick cotton, allegedly as part of a forced labour scheme.

Researchers behind the report believe that the actual number of Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities involved in the programme exceeds that number by "several hundred thousand".

The report says that despite increased mechanisation, cotton harvesting in Xinjiang still heavily relies on workers gathering crops by hand.

More than 20 percent of the world's cotton is produced in Xinjiang, with the report warning of "potentially drastic consequences" for global supply chains.

"It is clear that labour transfers for cotton-picking involve a very high risk of forced labour," anthropologist Adrian Zenz wrote in the report.

"Some minorities may exhibit a degree of consent in relation to this process, and they may benefit financially. However... it is impossible to define where coercion ends and where local consent may begin."

A March report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) alleged that several international brands - including Nike, Adidas and Gap - use cotton produced by forced Uighur labour.

Earlier this month, the United States announced a block on imports of cotton it says are harvested with "slave labour".

Across the Atlantic, Monday's CGP report prompted Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy to call for sanctions on Chinese officials linked to forced labour camps.

China has detained an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking minorities in "re-education" camps in the tightly-controlled region of Xinjiang in the country's northwest.

Muslims in Xinjiang are barred from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and have allegedly forced to drink alcohol and eat pork - both forbidden in Islam - in internment camps.

Rights groups and former inmates see the measures as part of a campaign to forcefully assimilate Uighurs and other minorities into the country's majority ethnic Han society, diluting their unique cultures and religious beliefs.

China has dismissed allegations of human rights abuses, claiming that it has set up 're-education' centres to combat extremism.

On Monday, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors rejected calls by exiled Uighurs to investigate China for alleged genocide and crimes against humanity, citing a lack of evidence.

The Uighurs handed a huge dossier of evidence to the court in July accusing China of locking more than one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in re-education camps and forcibly sterilising women.

But the office of prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said it was unable to act because the alleged acts happened on Chinese soil, which is not a signatory to The Hague-based ICC.

Lawyers for the Uighurs have asked the court to reconsider "on the basis of new facts or evidence".

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