The Chinese government has secretly transferred thousands of Uyghurs and other ethnic minority citizens from Xinjiang to factories across the country, according to a new report that implicates brands including Apple, BMW, Google, Nike and Samsung.
At least 80,000 Uyghurs have been transferred out of Xinjiang and are working under conditions that "strongly suggest forced labour" at factories across China, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute report said.
These factories supply scores of well-known global brands spanning the technology, clothing and automotive sectors.
83 brands named and shamed
The report identified 83 foreign and Chinese companies "directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through potentially abusive labour transfer programs as recently as 2019", with some brands are linked with multiple factories.
Tech: Acer, Apple, Amazon, ASUS, Dell, General Electric, Google, Hisense, Hitachi, HP, HTC, Huawei, Lenovo, LG, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nokia, Oculus, Oppo, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Siemens, Sony, Toshiba, ZTE
Clothing: Abercrombie ' Fitch, Adidas, Calvin Klein, Fila, Gap, H'M, Jack ' Jones, Lacoste, Nike, The North Face, Polo Ralph Lauren, Puma, Skechers, Tommy Hilfiger, Uniqlo, Victoria’s Secret, Zara, Zegna
Consumer goods: Bosch, Electrolux
Cars: BMW, General Motors, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, MG, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen.
One factory where Uyghur workers were sent in July 2019 listed CRRC – a Chinese state-owned rail manufacturer currently building trains in Melbourne, Australia – among its customers, the report said.
Titled Uyghurs for sale: Re-education, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang, the report was written by researchers from ASPI's International Cyber Policy Centre.
Lead author Vicky Xiuzhong Xu said the findings show that forced Uyghur labour "is now a global problem".
We are seeing the practices of the ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang being exported to major factories across China and implicating both global brands and their hundreds of millions of consumers.’’
– Vicky Xiuzhong Xu
Global brands "all have in common is a supply chain that appears to be tainted by forced and surveilled labour", Ms Xu said.
Related: As major brands go into damage control, here’s how you can end forced labour
"At no stage can we forget this forced and surveilled labour is coming from one of the most repressed regions of the world, where huge parts of the population remain under active surveillance, house arrest or arbitrary detention," she said.
China has already attracted "international condemnation for its network of extrajudicial ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang", but the research exposes "a new phase in China’s social re-engineering campaign targeting minority citizens", the report said.
Ms Xu warned that companies using forced Uyghur labour in their supply chains could "find themselves in breach of international and domestic anti-modern slavery laws".
Uyghurs transferred despite COVID-19 outbreak
Between 2017 and 2019 at least 80,000 Uyghur workers were transferred out of Xinjiang and assigned to factories through labour transfer programs under a central government policy known as ‘Xinjiang Aid’, the ASPI report said.
The estimated figure is "conservative and the actual figure is likely to be far higher", it said.
The transfers from Xinjiang to factories in eastern and central China have continued in 2020, despite much of the country remaining in lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The practice marks a new phase of China’s crackdown on the Uyghur and other Turkic minorities, following official claims that detained minorities had been freed, the researchers said.
Some factories appear to be using Uyghur workers sent directly from ‘re-education’ camps, the report said.
Related: Proof China knew what happened behind Muslim ‘re-education camp’ doors
The report also outlined cases of "disturbing forced labour practices", but the researchers noted that it was "impossible to confirm whether all employment transfers from Xinjiang are forced".
After being transferred Uyghur workers face harsh conditions and strict surveillance, the researchers found.
"In factories far away from home, they typically live in segregated dormitories, undergo organised Mandarin and ideological training outside working hours, are subject to constant surveillance, and are forbidden from participating in religious observances," the report said.
Chinese authorities and factory bosses manage these Uyghur workers by ‘tracking’ them both physically and electronically.
Numerous sources, including government documents, show that transferred workers are assigned minders and have limited freedom of movement,’’ the report said.
One provincial government document obtained by the researchers described a central database that extracts information from a WeChat group, and an unnamed smartphone app that tracks the movements and activities of each worker.
The report also revealed that Chinese government officials and private brokers were paid a price per head for workers on the labour assignments.