More than 80,000 Uighurs are believed to have been transferred out of the western Xinjiang autonomous region to work in factories across China from 2017 to 2019 to produce goods for global brands.
Twenty-seven factories in nine Chinese provinces have been linked to the use of the Uighur labor since 2017. A number of global brands such as Nike and Apple are among the major brands implicated in the supply chain. An estimated eight million pairs of Nike shoes are said to have been produced at the Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co., which is the factory that has been supplying shoes for the American footwear brand for the past 30 years.
Reeducation of minorities
According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a non-partisan defense and strategic policy think tank, the believed to be persecuted Uighur and Turkic Muslim residents were transferred in labor schemes created by a Chinese government policy known as Xinjiang Aid.
The scheme is said to be the second phase in the reeducation of minorities in an effort to prevent terrorism in China. The Uighur workers reportedly undergo Mandarin classes and ideological training after their working hours.
The ASPI says the forced labor comes from the reeducation camps which targets up to a million members of the Uighur Muslim minority. According to a report by the Washington Post, the forced labor in the factories consists of mostly young women. Government and private brokers involved are said to be paid a certain amount per labor worker.
Reaction from implicated brands
Nike responded to the report by saying that it is “committed to upholding international labor standards globally” and that its suppliers were “strictly prohibited from using any type of prison, forced, bonded or indentured labor.”
Apple’s suppliers in China include two companies that were found to use Uighur labor – BOE Technology Group for the production of screens and O-film Tech Company Limited to produce iPhone cameras.
Company spokesperson Josh Rosenstock said that he has not seen the report, but has vowed to work closely with Apple’s suppliers to ensure its high standards. “During an assessment, our suppliers are evaluated on all Labor and Human Rights Protections outlined in our Supplier Code of Conduct. Areas assessed include: anti-discrimination; anti-harassment and abuse; prevention of involuntary labor; human trafficking and underage labor; juvenile and student worker protections; working hours; and wages, and benefits,” the company states on its website.