The Communist Party of China (CCP), led by Xi Jinping, has introduced far-reaching and pervasive restrictions on the rights of some 11 million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. The Chinese government has for years curtailed basic human rights, especially the freedom of religion of these ethnic minorities. The control tools and methods employed by the Chinese government are cruel and highly personal. Any form of expression of Uyghur identity, culture and freedom is treated by the CCP as a threat to its power and is regarded as one of three evils: separatism, terrorism and extremism.
Two recent reports on the Chinese Communist Party’s activities in Xinjiang shocked the world and revealed that the CCP reached a new low by detaining and enslaving ethnic minorities in its vast northwestern region. The first report, published by Human Rights Watch (HRW), titled “ China: Big Data Program Targets Xinjiang Muslims, ” found that the Chinese government has employed ‘sophisticated’ data collections and analytics technology in Xinjiang, this system helps Chinese official flag and identify Turkish Muslims, mainly Uyghurs, and arbitrarily detain them in camps.
This new technology has given the Chinese the ability to target law-abiding, peaceful Uyghurs and send them without charge or due process to these “political re-education centers” for an indefinite period of time. The Chinese government has called these centers “re-education” centers after they were discovered in a thinly veiled attempt to deflect blame and avoid international criticism.
HRW revealed that China has developed a big data program it uses to identify Turkish Muslims in Xinjiang for possible detention. According to the report, the big data program is called Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), the system signals people to Chinese officials who then decide whether the person should be sent to a detention camp. HRW also had access to a leaked list of over 2,000 inmates from Aksu Prefecture.
This list was used by the IJOP to select the Uyghurs who were to be detained. The Big Data program has disturbed the brutal crackdown on the Turkish Muslim minority in Xinjiang. The Communist Party of China has adopted predictive policing programs by developing big data and using it that can identify Uighurs potentially dangerous to Chinese officials. The program collects data about people without their consent and uses that data to choose who should be detained.
Those who are reported by the system are picked up by Chinese officials and sent to detention centers where they are held indefinitely without charge or trial. Their families and relatives are also not informed that they have been arrested and are left wondering what happened.
The vast majority of people reported by the IJOP system, who are also on the Aksu list, have been arrested for apparently legal and non-violent behavior. These findings are in stark contrast to Chinese propaganda which claims that “sophisticated” technologies such as IJOP were being used in Xinjiang to capture violent criminals and terrorists.
Under Xi Jinping, the Chinese government launched the “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violence and Terrorism”, a false flag campaign to eliminate Uyghurs. As per official statements, the IJOP system helps the campaign by identifying “violent terrorists” and hidden “criminal elements”, but the IJOP regularly reports legal and non-violent behavior of ethnic minorities.
In recent years, the authorities have intensified their repressive practices to forcefully assimilate Xinjiang with the rest of China. The Party also wishes to sever any ties Uighurs or other ethnic minorities may have with foreign relatives or family members.
The second report by an international think tank, Center for Global Policy, revealed that the CCP forced ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, mainly Uyghur Muslims, to harvest cotton by hand in a form of modern slavery. These ethnic minorities are forced to work in inhumane conditions while they are in detention, or immediately after their release, paying very little to pick cotton by hand. Xinjiang produces 85% of China’s cotton, which in turn accounts for 20% of the world’s cotton. The revelation that the vast majority of cotton from China is purchased through forced labor will have drastic implications for global supply chains.
The Center for Global Politics report titled “Coercive Labor in Xinjiang: Labor Transfer and Mobilizing Ethnic Minorities to Harvest Cotton” highlighted that the Chinese government’s ethnic minorities in the region through coercive means participate in manual cotton harvesting. This allows the Chinese government to reduce dependence on Han Chinese labor immigrants from outside Xinjiang and also helps keep costs down.
Xinjiang produces over 80% of all cotton in China. Some of the best cottons in the world come from Xinjiang, and the Uyghur-majority regions in southern Xinjiang grow most of the region’s cotton. Even though China has the capacity and has deployed mechanized reapers, the percentage varies greatly from region to region and most of Xinjiang’s cotton is still produced in regions with low levels of mechanization. This factor, coupled with the need to keep production costs as low as possible, encourages a system of low-paid ethnic minority workers.
The Chinese government also uses programs called “labor transfers” to disrupt the lives of Uyghur minorities and provide labor for the cotton harvest. Job transfer refers to the transfer of rural workers such as farmers and herders into full-time wage workers. Mostly the people in these programs are shifted into the manufacturing sector, but also into the service sector and into paid seasonal agricultural work such as cotton harvesting.
The Communist Party of China not only uses ethnic minorities in cotton harvesting for economic gains, but another key goal that the Chinese government achieves through this forced labor is also to keep ethnic minorities such as Uighurs under constant surveillance and keep them employed. The Chinese government can easily track workers living and working in secure dormitory complexes. The CCP finds it much easier to control the environment within these complexes than it is for farmers or shepherds. The report also said that the prefectures of Aksu, Hotan and Kashgar alone have mobilized nearly 500,000 cotton pickers by coercive means.
The report from the Center of Global Policy succeeded for the first time in concretely demonstrating that ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, especially Uighurs, have been forced to become cotton pickers. The Party has also forced minorities to work in the cotton fields as a way to better monitor and control minority communities. It was better for the CCP to have Uighurs in the field picking cotton under the watchful eyes of their officials, rather than letting them roam freely as farmers and shepherds.
This unfathomable revelation that China has forced ethnic minorities in Xinjiang to become cotton pickers has profound implications that go beyond the borders of China and even Asia. Cotton from China using forced labor travels to countries like India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, where the cotton thread is made into clothing.
Some countries such as the US have already started the process of banning cotton exports from China through forced labor from their markets. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli issued a warning and said there is a high possibility that cheap cotton products from China were made using “ slave labor ” and that Chinese government actions constitute some of the worst human beings. ongoing rights violations around the world today. Retail groups in the United States, such as the American Apparel and Footwear Association and the National Retail Federation, have welcomed the ban.
Organizations around the world have urged global fashion brands to cut ties, if any, with cotton and cotton products from China and Xinjiang. Swedish fashion label “H&M” has already announced that it was ending its “indirect” relationship with a Chinese cotton supplier on charges of forced labor used to get the job.
In March 2020, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) suspended its licensing and insurance operations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region due to repeated allegations of forced human labor and other human rights violations in the region. Adidas and Lacoste have also committed to cease all activities with suppliers and contractors that have been linked to the use of forced Uighur labor in Xinjiang.
This low level of mechanization means that Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities are forced to become cotton pickers. The big data system developed by the CCP alerts legal Uighurs and deems them suspicious for daily activities such as reading the Quran. Uighurs are detained without charge or trial and do not even have access to lawyers or their families.
During their detention or immediately after their release, Uighurs are forced to become cotton pickers under the watchful eyes of government officials. The CCP finds it much easier to control and monitor these minorities during their time as cotton pickers than their traditional vocation as farmers and herders.
In recent months, a global movement has gained momentum and urged international fashion brands to sever their ties with China due to reports that the Chinese government has used slave labor. Brands like H&M, Adidas and Lacoste have already pledged to sever ties with suppliers in China that have been linked to the use of Uyghur slave labor.