US blacklists 11 companies over alleged links to China's mistreatment of Uighurs

US blacklists 11 companies over alleged links to China's mistreatment of Uighurs
The United States has blacklisted companies with alleged links to China's mistreatment of its Muslim Uighur minority.
4 min read
22 July, 2020
The spotlight is on China over its treatment of Uighurs [Getty]
The US has doubled down on its economic pressure on China after it blacklisted 11 Chinese companies implicated in human rights abuses against the state’s Muslim Uighur population.

The United States Commerce Department added 11 Chinese companies thought to be a part of China’s systemic abuse of its Uighur minority in Xinjiang to the country's economic blacklist.

The Commerce Department said it was adding the firms and institutions to its "entity list", which restricts the sales of US goods shipped to them, as well as limited items made abroad using American technology.

This latest move indicates a growing opposition from the US to China's mistreatment of the Uighur minority, who have been subject to horrific abuses including illegal DNA tracking and unlawful incarceration into camps – claims Beijing continues to deny.

Several textile companies, scientific companies which reportedly use DNA and genetic analysis to oppress the Uighur population and firms which specialise in Artificial Intelligence services have been included in the latest round of blacklisting.

In May, the Trump administration put 33 Chinese companies on a blacklist.

Seven companies and two institutions were listed for being "complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labour and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs" and others, the Commerce Department said in a statement at the time.

"Beijing actively promotes the reprehensible practice of forced labour and abusive DNA collection and analysis schemes to repress its citizens," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

Train developer KTK Group Co, which produces more than 2,000 products used to build high-speed trains, was included in the list along with Changji Esquel Textile Co. Launched by Esquel Group, the company produces clothing for a number of high fashion brands including Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss.

In April Esquel was forced to deny claims it was using forced labour in Xinjiang.

Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories Co. was also on the blacklist; on 1 May US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) revealed it was ending imports of the company’s hair products, due to evidence it found of the use of forced labour.

This isn't the first beauty firm that was shamed for its use of Uighur forced labour; on 1 July CBP seized in Newark a shipment of some 13 tonnes of hair products, including human hair worth more than $800,000 that came from Xinjiang.

NetPosa was also included in the previous batch of blacklisting, one of China’s most famous AI companies, after it was alleged that its facial recognition subsidiary is linked to the surveillance of Muslims.

Uighur forced labour

As countries across the world enact sanctions and condemn China for its treatment of Uighurs, it has come to light that Chinese companies have allegedly used Uighur forced labour to satisfy global demand for face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dozens of new PPE producers have opened in the country since the pandemic, The New York Times reported on Sunday, with at least 17 employing Uighur labourers through a state-sponsored programme that analysts say amounts to forced labour.

Human rights organisations and activists describe the system - endorsed by Beijing as a method of poverty reduction - as part of a system of repression targeting Uighur and other Muslim minorities in the northwestern Xinjiang province.

Experts estimate at least 1 million Muslims are held in detention camps in Xinjiang, where most of the Uighur population originate from.

Read more: Just Do It: Stop forced labour of Uighur Muslims in China

The Chinese government has consistently batted away claims it was violating human rights, and argued that these camps are "re-education centers" designed to tackle Islamic extremism and Uighur separatism.

Leaked documents indicate that when detainees are released from camps many are sent to work at factories in Xinjiang and beyond.

Reports suggest that most, if not all, of the Uighurs working in such factories are forced to do so, and face continued restrictions on movement and worship.

The new report indicates that alleged forced labour has been aided by a boom in demand for PPE production due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Before the spread of Covid-19, there were just four producers of medical-grade PPE in the Uighur-majority Xinjiang province alone.

As of June, there are 51 - at least 17 of which participate in the government's so-called "poverty reduction" programme.

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