China Rebrands Uyghur Slave Labor as ‘Facilitation of Employment’

Supporters of China's Muslim Uighur minority wave flags of East Turkestan on December 20, 2019 during a demostration at Fatih in Istanbul. - More than 1,000 protesters marched on December 20, 2019, in Istanbul to protest against China over its treatment of mainly Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, an AFP correspondent …
OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images

The Communist Party of China published a “white paper” on Thursday in defense of what are believed to be over 1,000 concentration camps for Turkic Muslims in far-west Xinjiang province, asserting that the camps are for “vocational training” and have allowed for the “facilitation of employment.”

The document asserts that, to the Chinese regime, work is “an essential human activity” that the concentration camps have created “systematic arrangements” to procure, leading to a more “rational” employment mechanism. The introduction of concentration camps equipped with large factories, it goes on to contend, was necessary to combat alleged “terrorists” convincing locals in Xinjiang, the homeland of the majority-Muslim ethnic Uyghur people, to not “improve their vocational skills.”

China has long argued that Uyghurs are sensitive to recruitment by the Islamic State and other jihadist groups because of the prevalence of Islam in their community.

Reports have surfaced since late 2018 of Chinese regime officials developing camps where they force locals belonging to the majority Uyghur ethnic group — and other Turkic groups such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz people — to renounce Islam, worship communist dictator Xi Jinping, learn Mandarin, and engage in forced labor. Survivors say they were subject to extreme torture, rape, forced abortions and sterilizations, and other atrocities. An independent tribunal in London found that sufficient evidence exists to suggest that Beijing is cutting the organs out of some living concentration camp prisoners and selling them on the black market.

At their peak, the American government estimated that the Communist Party had forced up to 3 million people into the camps.

Beijing has consistently denied that any human rights abuses occur in the camps and asserted they were not meant for the elimination of non-Han atheist culture, but were instead “vocational training” camps meant to teach impoverished Muslims job skills to compete in the Chinese economy. In December, the Chinese government announced that most camp prisoners had “graduated” from vocational training programs. Two months later, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a think-tank studying human rights abuses in China, revealed that the Communist Party had begun bussing thousands of concentration camp prisoners to factories nationwide, forcing them to engage in slave labor.

The ASPI report implicated 83 global companies in using factories that employed Uyghur slaves, some of which have since vowed to stop sourcing manufacturing in Xinjiang — even though the abuses documented in the ASPI report, “Uyghurs for Sale,” explicitly occurred outside of the province.

In an apparent attempt to calm the nerves of public relations executives at the implicated companies, the Communist Party’s State Council Information Office published a white paper on Thursday asserting that China respects the rights of workers and that the concentration camps are necessary to help Uyghurs achieve a “moderately prosperous” existence.

“Work creates the means of existence and is an essential human activity. It creates a better life and enables all-round human development and the progress of civilization,” the paper read. “China is committed to the people-centered philosophy of development, attaches great importance to job security, gives high priority to employment, and pursues a proactive set of policies on employment.”

The Communist Party in Xinjiang “takes the facilitation of employment as the most fundamental project for ensuring and improving people’s wellbeing,” the report insisted. “It has made every effort to increase and stabilize employment through various channels: encouraging individual initiative, regulatory role of the market, and government policies facilitating employment, entrepreneurship, and business startups.”

“Through vocational training, Xinjiang has built a large knowledge-based, skilled and innovative workforce that meets the requirements of the new era,” it continued.

The report admits to nearly all the accusations against China: forcing Uyghurs, who speak their own Turkic language, to speak only Han Mandarin; placing prisoners in factories and transferring thousands to work throughout the country; and forcing them out of their homes.

“Xinjiang has organized employment-oriented training on standard spoken and written Chinese, relevant legal knowledge, general knowhow of urban life, and labor skills,” the white paper detailed. “In some provinces, enterprises provide them with public rental housing, low-rent housing, or housing for couples.”

The workers, it goes on to argue, “move from rural to urban areas, and turn from farmers to workers. In this process, they learn skills, increase their incomes, and achieve prosperity.”

“Most people are satisfied with their current life and are optimistic about the future,” the communist government claimed.

The report concluded with an attack on human rights activists and the governments of free states that have condemned Beijing for enslaving its ethnic minorities.

“For years, certain international forces, guilty of ideological bias and prejudiced against China, have been applying double standards in Xinjiang,” the white paper concluded, “criticizing ‘breaches of human rights’ while ignoring the tremendous efforts Xinjiang has made to protect human rights.”

“They have fabricated facts to support their false claims of ‘forced labor’ in Xinjiang, and smeared the local government’s work on employment and job security,” it stated. “Their acts amount to a denial of the fact that the local people in Xinjiang enjoy the right to work, aspire to move out of poverty and backwardness and are working towards that goal.”

The government attempt to justify human rights atrocities in Xinjiang and elsewhere in the country may be too late given the growing number of companies previously sourcing products in the province that have found the human rights backlash unprofitable. H&M announced on Tuesday that it would cut ties with at least one Chinese yarn producer over reports of the use of slaves to grow and pick cotton for its clothing and that it would not source cotton from Xinjiang anymore, where 80 percent of China’s cotton is grown.

Adidas and Lacoste had previously issued similar statements. Companies reacting less aggressively to the move include Abercrombie & Fitch, which has repeatedly asserted that it does not “believe” that slave labor has tainted its supply chain in China despite its appearance on the ASPI list of compromised companies.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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