The Chinese central government is trying to reconcile the Muslim minority in the west of the country with re-education and reprisal. Apparently hundreds of thousands were also required to do forced labor.

In China’s Xinjiang province, hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities are forced to work in cotton fields, according to a report. In 2018, at least 570,000 people in three predominantly Uyghur regions of Xinjiang were said to have been forced to harvest cotton as part of a state forced labor program on Monday, according to the report by the American think tank Center for Global Policy (CGP).

Experts warn that the number affected could be “several hundred thousand” higher. More than 20 percent of the world’s cotton is produced in Xinjiang, according to the report. This could have “potentially profound consequences” for global supply chains. In March, Australia’s Strategic Policy Institute accused several international brand manufacturers, such as Adidas, Gap and Nike, of using forced labor by Uyghurs for their products.

Hundreds of prisons for Uyghurs and other Muslims

At least one million Uyghurs and other Muslims are held in hundreds of detention camps in Xinjiang, according to human rights organizations and researchers. According to the activists, they are forced to give up their religion, culture and language and in some cases they are also abused. Exiled Uyghurs also accuse Beijing of murders, kidnappings, torture and forced sterilization.

Beijing rejects the allegations and speaks of “education centers” serving the fight against Islamic radicalization. Moreover, according to Beijing, more than half of the camps have already left. However, many former prisoners were reportedly transferred to factories often linked to the camps.

The CGP report, which quoted government documents, said the alleged forced laborers were being closely monitored by the police, managed “quasi-militarily” and moved from place to place.

The US did not import cotton from western China

Some of those affected may benefit financially from the programs and partially agree to the process, but it is “impossible to determine where coercion ends and consent begins,” wrote Adrian Zenz, the report’s author. “It is clear that the transfer of workers to pick cotton carries a very high risk of forced labor.”

Due to human rights violations, the US stopped importing cotton from the region in early December, calling it “slave labor”. Beijing then accused Washington of spreading false news. About a fifth of the cotton used in the US comes from Xinjiang.

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