Uighurs in China forced to produce COVID-19 PPE kits for export against their will: Report

As the coronavirus cases continue to surge globally, the Chinese companies are using Uighur labourers through the contentious government-sponsored programme to produce personal protection equipment (PPE) both for domestic purpose and export, as the New York Times reported.

Under the government-sponsored programme, the Uyghurs and other ethnic people are sent to factories and other service jobs.

Uyghurs are a largely Muslim ethnic minority primarily from the Xinjiang region of northwest China. The program sends Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities into factory and service jobs. Now, their labour is part of the P.P.E. supply chain.

A New York Times visual investigation has found that some of those companies are using Uighur labour through a contentious government-sponsored program that experts say often puts people to work against their will.

According to China’s National Medical Products Administration, only four companies in Xinjiang produced medical-grade protective equipment before the pandemic. As of June 30, that number was 51. After reviewing state media reports and public records, The Times found that at least 17 of those companies participate in the labour transfer program.

According to an investigation conducted by the NYT, as many as 71 companies are part of the programme.

While the programme is stated to be a poverty reduction initiative, the workers are forced to learn Mandarin and even pledge their loyalty to the Beijing government at weekly flag-raising ceremonies.

The NYT findings noted that the products made in these factories are even exported to the US.

The companies produce equipment primarily for domestic use, but The Times identified several other companies outside Xinjiang that use Uighur labour and export globally. “We traced a shipment of face masks to a medical supply company in the U.S. state of Georgia from a factory in China’s Hubei Province, where more than 100 Uighur workers had been sent,” stated the article by TheTimes

The program is widely publicized in state media as a form of poverty reduction. The Human Rights Investigations Lab at the University of California, Berkeley and the Uyghur Human Rights Project have both collected dozens of videos and social media reports that document the recent labour transfers.

It further stated that there are quotas on the number of workers put into the government-sponsored labour programme and there are also penalties for those not willing to participate.

“There are these coercive quotas that cause people to be put into factory work when they don’t want to be,” said Amy K. Lehr, the Director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He further added, “And that could be considered forced labour under international law.” 

Photo Credits: AP

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