Some of the World’s Biggest Brands Depend on Forced Labor in China

By Cathalijne Adams
Mar 03 2020 |
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The Chinese government is conscribing Chinese ethnic minorities into forced labor.

Modern commerce often distances consumers from production. It’s far too easy to pretend that the boxes of goods that show up at your front door just magically arrive there — seemingly apparating into being.

But this myth obfuscates a multitude of tragic truths that we can no longer deny, one of these being that the goods that fill our shopping carts may be the spoils of de facto slave labor in China.

A new report identifies 83 global brands, including Nike, Gap, Target, Apple, H&M, BMW, Samsung and Huawei, that depend upon factories in China that utilize the forced labor of Chinese ethnic minority Uighurs.  

More than 80,000 of the estimated 1.5 million Uighurs detained in China have been transferred from re-education camps to a network of 27 Chinese factories for state-sponsored forced labor, according to the report produced by the think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (APSI).

It has been well documented that China’s Uighur detention camps have worked to systematically strip the group of its cultural identity, language and religion in reprehensible conditions. Now APSI’s report makes clear that when Uighur detainees are released to “vocational training,” their suffering is far from over.

The report details how China’s work programs for Uighur detainees is consistent with six of the International Labour Organization’s eleven indicators of forced labor, including threatening Uighur workers and their families with re-education, restricting freedom of movement through surveillance and isolation, and “military-style” management of work within the factories. APSI states:

“In factories far away from home, [detained Uighur workers] typically live in segregated dormitories, undergo organized Mandarin and ideological training outside working hours, are subject to constant surveillance, and are forbidden from participating in religious observances. Numerous sources, including government documents, show that transferred workers are assigned minders and have limited freedom of movement.”

It should come as little surprise that several known bad actors are also profiting from this forced labor, including CRRC Corporation Limited (CRRC) and Build Your Dreams (BYD). We’ve been following the moves of these two Chinese companies for many months now as they work to force their competitors in the rail and automotive industries out of business.

Though thousands of miles may separate us from these detention camps, we are complicit in these human rights abuses as long as we continue to ignore the reality that our purchases perpetuate the forced labor of the Uighur population.  

If you’re ready to confront whether your purchasing supports one of the factories identified in APSI’s report, you can find a thorough list of the companies that are sourcing from these factories and what products they produce in the report’s appendix. It’s sober reading, but grievously overdue.