To stop Uighur abuses, hit China where it hurts

To stop Uighur abuses, hit China where it hurts
Comment: Western governments must target supply chains, and punish corporations that continue to profit from directly from forced Uighur labour, writes CJ Werleman.
5 min read
02 Jun, 2020
Rights groups say at least one million Uighurs have been incarcerated in Xinjiang camps [Getty]
Last week, the United States House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favour of a bill to punish China for its brutal persecution and detainment of upwards of 3 million Uighr Muslims in Xinjiang, or what the ethnic minority refer to as East Turkestan. 

The bipartisan bill, which received almost unanimous support with a 413 to 1 vote, compels the Trump administration to impose sanctions on top Chinese Communist Party officials and state backed corporations and entities that oversee, or are entangled in with what human rights groups describe as "cultural genocide" or the systematic erasure of Islam from the Chinese controlled territory.

"With this overwhelming bipartisan legislation, the United States Congress is taking a firm step to counter Beijing's horrific human rights abuses against the Uighurs," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "We must continue to raise a drumbeat and shine the light of abuse perpetrated by Beijing against the Uighurs whenever we can, from this House floor to the State Department to other multilateral institutions."

The bill now awaits President Donald Trump's signature, but despite his strong rhetoric towards China, he has shown significant reluctance in implementing measures that directly hurt Chinese President Xi Jinping or senior leaders within the Communist Party. Some analysts have speculated Trump's $211 million debt with the state-owned Bank of China explains his reticence to punish or even speak forcefully against CCP leadership.

The next step is acknowledging that it's not only Chinese corporations and entities that are the beneficiaries of the CCP's network of Muslim concentration camps

Nevertheless, the United States government deserves praise for being the first to put in place concrete measures meant to pressure Beijing into ending its human rights violations against Uighr Muslims, particularly because many Muslim majority countries, and/or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), continue to either refuse the condemn China, or even deny these crimes are taking place.

While we might question the US' motive for imposing sanctions, given the US government's documented history of expressed hostility towards Islam and Muslims, the international community must now follow its lead, and broaden what should only be seen as the first steppingstone to saving and freeing China's Uighrs. 

The next step is acknowledging that it's not only Chinese corporations and entities that are the beneficiaries of the CCP's network of Muslim concentration camps, but also western corporations are entangled with the systematic cruelties occurring in Xinjiang, including global brands Coca Cola, Volkswagen, BMW, H&M, Adidas, Kraft Heinz Corporation, Puma, Gap Inc, and others. 

In fact, a report published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that at least 80,000 Uighur Muslims were used as forced labour for 83 global brands during 2017 to 2019.

Read more: US Congress ramps up China pressure over Uighur Muslim camps

"In factories far away from home, they typically live in segregated dormitories, undergo organised Mandarin and ideological training outside working hours, are subject to constant surveillance, and are forbidden from participating in religious observances," observe the authors of the report.

So, what implications does this have for the international community?

Andrew Zenz, a prolific researcher on China's ethnic policy in Xinjiang and a senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, DC, says the "only viable solution is to consider the region to be thoroughly tainted with different forms of coercive labour."

"This means nothing made in whole or in part with products from Xinjiang should have any place in an ethically clean supply chain," argues Zenz.

There's also evidence that no fewer than two dozen western medical corporations are knowingly and unwittingly profiting from China's illegal forced organ harvesting programme, which targets religious minorities, including the Uighur, for "slaughter on demand."

According to the Institute to Research the Crimes of Communism (IRCC), major pharmaceutical and medical supply companies are profiting or participating across all levels of China's transplantation logistics and supply chain, including organ preservation, immunosuppressive drugs, transplant diagnostic, medical robotics, transplant diagnostics and other services and products.

"We have concluded that western companies sell transplant products to China, with China extremely dependent on them, especially when it comes to organ perfusion products," said Pavel Porubiak, a senior analyst at IRCC. "So western companies indirectly profit from organ harvesting…which also means they profit from organ harvesting of Uighurs."

Democratic countries should put in place policies that prevent the import of goods and services made with forced labour

The need for international solidarity and action has never been more urgent, and there are a number of ways in which states, sub-state actors, non-governmental organisations, and individuals can play a part in pressuring Beijing to change its current course and end the forced detainment of millions of ethnic Uighr.

For starters, democratic countries should put in place policies that prevent the import of goods and services made with forced labour, a law the US has had in place since Section 307 of the US Tariff Act was enacted in 1930, and one that members of the European Parliament proposed last year. This has the potential to "pave the way for a complete ban on the importation into the EU of goods produced through modern forms of slavery or forced labour, especially forced work of vulnerable groups extorted in violation of basic human rights standards."

The national security magazine Lawfare suggests supply-chain specialists and industry experts could provide guidance for governments in identifying and designing the scope of forced-labour presumption, adding, "The presumption could apply not only to goods exported from particular locations but also to specific types of Chinese-made goods known to frequently involve components from Xinjiang."

A global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement modelled on the one seeking to end Israel's illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, could mobilise focused opposition to China's forced labour camps, which would inflict great damage to China's reputation as a global leader in supply chain logistics and labour sourcing - and at a time it's economy can least afford such a blow.

Ultimately, the situation is this: if the United States is genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of Uighr Muslims, it will go further. And if the international community cares even a little for human rights and international law, it will follow the United States' lead.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.