China uses Uyghur labor to produce face masks


If you are one of the millions of people around the world who are wearing a face mask due to the coronavirus pandemic, these images may cause concern. It shows a group of Uighurs arriving at a textile company which has started to produce masks in response to the pandemic. Uighurs are a largely persecuted and largely Muslim ethnic minority. This brilliantly produced video by Chinese public television appears to show grateful workers getting ready for their new jobs. But behind this propaganda lies a hidden story about a long-standing and highly controversial government work program that experts say often puts people to work against their will. We have examined hundreds of videos, photos, government documents and shipping data to reveal how the growing demand for face masks is linked to this problematic program. We have identified several Chinese companies that use Uighur labor to produce PPE and have tracked some of their shipments to consumers in the United States and around the world. “The rural poor who are put into factories don’t do it by choice. There are these coercive quotas that push people to work in factories when they don’t want to. And that could be considered forced labor under international law. All of this is driven by supply and demand. Chinese companies rushed to produce masks as the pandemic spread across China and the rest of the world. In Xinjiang, where the majority of Uyghurs live, only four companies were producing medical-grade protective equipment before the pandemic. Now that number is 51. We have found that at least 17 of them are participating in the workforce transfer program. “Any company that purchases masks or other personal protective equipment that wishes to avoid forced labor in these products should not source them in Xinjiang.” Let’s take a closer look at a factory in Xinjiang: the company we showed you earlier, where Uyghurs arrived for their first day. It’s called Tianshan Textile. China is proud to promote the transfer program as a means of reducing poverty. Thus, we are able to follow the workers in their new living quarters at the factory, thanks to state media reports. It all started here. In mid-March, the government displaced nearly 2,000 Uyghurs from Hotan in southern Xinjiang. Their destination is Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang in the north. Fifty were sent to Tianshan Textile for a very specific task. – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Tianshan did not respond to our request for comment. But it is a clear example of how Uyghur workers are responding to the growing need for PPE. Now, let’s look at the companies that use the Labor program to make products that are shipped to the United States and around the world. We will first take a look at a company called Hubei Haixin. It uses Uyghur workers from the workforce transfer program. Its factory is located here, nearly 3,000 kilometers from Hotan, from where the Uyghur workers were transferred. We followed one of Hubei Haixin’s face mask expeditions from his port of departure to Shanghai in the United States. He arrived at the Port of Los Angeles at the end of May. Then the shipment was received by MedWay US, a medical supply company in Suwanee, Georgia. Although MedWay US does not respond to Times’ questions about the origin of their products, we can see that they sell masks online. Protective gear manufactured by Hubei Haixin is also readily available to US consumers on popular online shopping websites. Images of the living conditions of Uyghurs at the Hubei Haixin factory, proudly broadcast on state media, explain why the workforce transfer program is so controversial. They are required to attend a weekly national flag raising ceremony to commit to China. They must also learn to speak Mandarin. This form of political indoctrination is common, and we see it in more detail in another exporting company that we have identified. This is Medwell Medical Products. According to state media, Uyghurs make up more than 25% of the company’s workforce. Although an employee who answered the phone at Medwell told The Times that there were no workers from Xinjiang, we do know that there are Uyghurs in the Medwell factory. In satellite imagery, we can clearly see their separate living quarters. They have an assigned area on the factory grounds. They are surrounded by government indoctrination and take compulsory Mandarin lessons three times a week. In the opinion of the government, fluency in Mandarin and factory working skills are essential to assimilate Chinese society. It is not known how many Medwell masks send abroad. But a representative for Medwell openly promoted its strong export business in an interview on state television. – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] And we found that it was also shipped to current virus hotspots in Latin America. A Brazilian company called MedTrace received a shipment of facial masks from Medwell but told us that it was unaware that it used Uighur workers. The labor transfer program is part of a larger system of mass repression and incarceration. Over a million Uyghurs, and mostly Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years, some simply for their religious practice. The Chinese Communist Party says its tight control over Xinjiang is necessary to fight what it says is religious extremism. It is virtually impossible to know who in the transfer program was forced to participate. Speaking out is incredibly risky. And the government is shaping the narrative. – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] “In Xinjiang, it is not a practical possibility at the moment to conduct effective interviews with workers because no worker can expect, on site or off site, to feel comfortable speaking frankly and openly. with an interviewer, especially if the topic under discussion is the problem. forced labor, which is the hot issue in Xinjiang from a labor rights perspective. But we know that the transfers are widespread and often coercive. The authorities grant the regions subsidies for each worker they take in. They also impose quotas on the number of workers to be transferred. “It puts enormous pressure on these officials to find these workers. And that increases the risk that these workers will not work of their own accord. Those who refuse to work in the program may be penalized. A 2018 local government directive describes a system that classifies workers according to their level of cooperation. Those with low scores are subjected to more indoctrination and their movements are restricted. Since 2017, nearly three million people a year have enrolled in the program. A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in the United States told The Times that the rights of Uyghur workers are protected and the measures, quote, “are helping local residents lift themselves out of poverty through employment and lead a fulfilling life ”. Earlier this year, an Australian think tank identified 83 major international brands whose supply chains were linked to Uyghur labor transfers, including Nike and Apple. The situation has become so worrying that the US government warned American companies in July 2020 of the risk of forced labor from Xinjiang. And US lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan bill to restrict imports from the region. “He injected forced labor into US and global supply chains.” “We know that many American, international and Chinese companies are complicit in the exploitation of forced labor.” But despite the concern, we’ve seen that protective gear against problematic supply chains continues to gain traction in the United States and around the world. “Hey, it’s Haley here, one of the reporters in this video. Our team spent months investigating companies in China that use Uighur labor to produce PPE, but we didn’t realize how widespread the problem was until we tracked a shipment of face masks from one of these companies to the United States. If you want to see more work like this, tell us what we should study next, and don’t forget to subscribe to other visual surveys. “


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