570,000 Uighurs forced to work on cotton farms in Xinjiang: Think tank report
More than a half a million ethnic Muslim minorities mostly from the Uighur community have been coerced into picking cotton through a forced labour programme, a new report has said.
The report by the Washington-based Centre for Global Policy said at least 570,000 locals from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) province were marshalled into cotton farms under forced labour scheme.
The centre collected evidence from official government documents available online on the programme that was implemented in at least three Uighur-majority regions within the vast province.
The province produces more than 80% of China’s cotton while China supplies over 20% of the world’s produce of the cash crop.
“New evidence from Chinese government documents and media reports shows that hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority labourers in Xinjiang are being forced to pick cotton by hand through a coercive state-mandated labour transfer and ‘poverty alleviation’ scheme, with potentially drastic consequences for global supply chains,” the report said.
The Chinese foreign ministry on Tuesday dismissed the report, saying it was concocted and part of the continued international attempt to slander China.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that helping people from all ethnic groups in Xinjiang to achieve stable employment is a different concept from forced labour.
Wang added that workers of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang choose occupations according to their own wishes, and sign labour contracts with companies in accordance with the principle of equality and voluntariness.
“They will not be discriminated against due to differences in ethnicity, gender, and religious beliefs. Governments at all levels in Xinjiang fully respect ethnic minorities, and provide necessary training for voluntarily registered workers to improve their skills for employment,” Wang said.
Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors have rejected calls by exiled Uighurs to investigate China for alleged crimes against humanity in XUAR.
Reports from The Hague said that members from Uighur exiled had handed a dossier of “evidence” to the court in July accusing China of locking more than a million Uighurs in re-education camps and of forcibly sterilising women.
But the office of prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said on Monday it was unable to act because the alleged acts happened on the territory of China, which is not a signatory to The Hague-based ICC.