BEIJING: Hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority workers in northwest China Xinjiang region is forced to choose cotton by a forced state plan, a report said.
The research released Monday by a Washington think tank on the Center for Global Policy is likely to put more pressure on global brands such as Nike, Gap and Adidas, which have been accused of using Uyghur forced labor in their textile supply chains.
Right-wing activists said Xinjiang is home to a vast network of out-of-court internment camps that have jailed at least a million people whom China has defended as vocational training centers to counter extremism.
The report – which referenced online government documents – said the total number involved in three majority Uyghur regions exceeds around 2018 an estimate of 517,000 people forced to choose cotton as part of the plan by the hundreds of thousands.
Researchers have warned of the “potentially drastic consequences” for global cotton supply chains, with Xinjiang producing more than 20 percent of the world’s cotton and about a fifth of the used yarn in the U.S. coming from the region.
The BBC reported that it had asked 30 major international brands whether they intended to further acquire products from China as a result of the findings – of those who responded, only four said they had a strict policy to require goods from all over China do not use raw cotton from Xinjiang.
Beijing said all detainees had “graduated” from the centers, but reports suggested that many former inmates had been handed over to jobs from low-skilled manufacturing factories, often linked to the camps.
But the think tank report said participants in a job transfer scheme were heavily controlled by police, with point-to-point transfers, “military-style management” and ideological training, citing government documents.
“It is clear that job transfers for cotton picking involve a very high risk of forced labor,” Adrian Zenz, who discovered the documents, wrote in the report.
“Some minorities may show some consensus in relation to this process, and they may benefit financially. However … it is not possible to define where coercion ends and where local consensus may begin.”
The report also says there is a strong ideological incentive to implement the plan, as the boost in rural incomes allows officials to hit targets of state-imposed poverty.
China has strongly denied allegations of forced labor Uyghurs in Xinjiang and says training programs, work plans and better education have helped eradicate extremism in the region.
Asked about the report, Beijing said workers “of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang sign employment contracts with enterprises based on their own voluntary choice of occupation.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin also attacked the author of the Zenz report, saying he is the “backbone of an anti-Chinese research organization set up under the manipulation of the U.S. intelligence agency, which mainly fabricates rumors against China and slanders China. ”
Earlier this month, the United States banned imports of cotton produced by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a major militia entity that covers about a third of the crop produced in the entire region.
Another proposed bill banning all imports from Xinjiang has not yet passed in the U.S. Senate.