New Delhi: The Chinese government is forcing thousands of its Uyghur Muslim citizens to work as “forced labour” in hundreds of factories across Chinese cities, according to a report published by an Australian think tank in March this year.

The report released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) titled “Uyghurs for Sale” stated that big, well-known global companies in the field of clothing, technology and automotive sectors like Abercrombie & Fitch, Amazon, GAP, H&M, Nike, Jack & Jones, Sharp, Siemens, Skechers, ASUS, Apple, Samsung, Huawei, BMW, Volkswagen, Sony, Polo Ralph Lauren, Puma, Victoria’s Secret, Vivo, among others, are using Uyghur Muslims as “forced labour” in their factories in China.

According to the report, these minority labour forces in China are being supplied in a systematic way under the revived and exploitative government-led labour transfer scheme to Chinese factories outside the Xinjiang province in China where this community of Muslims live.

“The ASPI has identified 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces that are using Uyghur labour transferred from Xinjiang since 2017. Those factories claim to be part of the supply chain of 83 well-known global brands. Between 2017 and 2019, we estimate that at least 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang and assigned to factories through labour transfer programmes under a Central government policy known as ‘Xinjiang Aid’,” the report said.

The factories in which these Uyghur Muslims are made to work form a major chunk of the supply chain of these big brands. For example, in January 2020, around 600 ethnic minority workers from Xinjiang were employed at Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd, which makes shoes for the American company Nike. The workforce in this factory are mostly Uyghur women from Hotan and Kashgar towns in China, which are remote parts of southern Xinjiang that the Chinese government has described as “backward” and “disturbed by religious extremism”.

The report also mentions that it had investigated into the Haoyuanpeng Clothing Manufacturing Co. Ltd, which has a strategic partnership with global companies like the Italian-South Korean fashion label Fila, German sportswear companies Adidas and Puma and Nike for manufacturing clothes and found that it was part of the “Xinjiang Aid” and had been receiving “forced labour”.

Global phone leader Apple’s selfie camera manufacturer O-Film Technology Co. Ltd in Guangzhou, China, is also a part of the “Xinjiang Aid” and receives multiple workforces in terms of Uyghur Muslims, the report said. The company also claims on its website to manufacture camera modules and touchscreen components for a number of other well-known companies including Huawei, Lenovo and Samsung.

A local government document accessed by the ASPI researchers from September 2019 said that 560 Xinjiang labourers were transferred to work in factories in central Henan province, including Foxconn Technology’s Zhengzhou facility. Foxconn, a Taiwanese company, is the biggest contract electronics manufacturer in the world, making devices for Apple, Dell and Sony, among others. The Zhengzhou facility reportedly makes half of the world’s iPhones and is the reason why Zhengzhou city is dubbed as “iPhone city”.

A September 2019 report by New York-based China Labour Watch said contract workers at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory, who include Uyghur workers, had put in at least 100 overtime hours a month. Over the past decade, Foxconn has been marred by allegations of worker exploitation and even suicides, including recently at its Zhengzhou facility. The company has also actively participated in the “Xinjiang Aid” scheme.

The ASPI report claims that this is a “state-sponsored” programme where the Uyghurs who are brought in as labour force have no option but to continue with their given assignment as escape route is not easy.

“The workers in these factories are brought and kept in dormitories after they finish their ‘re-education’ in the camps. In their work place, they lead a harsh and segregated life. They are forbidden to practice religion and are required to compulsorily take Mandarin lessons. Most strikingly, local governments and private brokers are paid a price per head by the Xinjiang provincial government to organise the labour assignments,” the report said.

The report also brings to light how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadres surveil the workers’ families who are left back in the Xinjiang province as a caution to the workers that if they try to flee or are found to be indulging in misconduct in the factory, their families could face consequences.

The report also quoted a religious and human rights NGO, Bitter Winter, where a Uyghur worker said, “We were all former ‘re-education camp’ detainees and were threatened with further detention if they disobeyed the government’s work assignments. The police regularly search our dormitories and check our phones for any religious content. If a Quran is found, the owner will be sent back to the ‘re-education camp’ for 3-5 years.”

The United Nations estimates that more than a million Muslim Uyghurs have been detained in the camps of Xinjiang over the years for indoctrination and to induct them into the CCP style of living and all this in the name of providing vocational training and removing terrorism.