Muslim minority groups in China are currently under threat of forced internment and labor. The Uyghur, Kazakhs and other minority groups currently residing in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in Northwest China are facing increased government scrutiny for simply being a minority. In May of 2014, the Chinese government launched their “Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism" and began indiscriminately rounding up Muslims from the XUAR. These detainees are being held in formal prisons, pre-trial facilities and informal political re-education camps. There are an estimated 1 million detainees held in areas across the country at the moment. They are subjected to assimilation efforts ranging from forced renouncing of religious beliefs all the way to forced compliance with party beliefs on threats of torture.
According to documents published by the Chinese government, the forced internment and labor program “aims to transform scattered Uighurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities — many of them farmers, shopkeepers and tradespeople — into a disciplined, Chinese-speaking industrial workforce, loyal to the Communist Party and factory bosses." The Chinese government continues to call these locations, which are clearly internment camps, “vocational training centers." However, the involuntary confinement internees experience as well as the mandated service of internees in nearby garment factories suggest that these camps are more for the benefit of the government than those confined in their walls.
The actions of the government put China in direct violation of article seven of the United Nations International Bill on Human Rights (UNIBHR). Additionally, the rise of deaths and disappearance of detainees also brings China into the jurisdiction of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNPPG). Article seven of the UNIBHR protects individual from all acts of torture or cruel/ inhumane treatment. Likewise, the UNPPG protects religious groups from persecution that is meant to bring about their annihilation. With these pieces of legislation at their back, the United Nations has launched an investigation into these crimes, despite little cooperation from the Chinese government. While journalists have been able to enter the country and speak with the families of some internees both in the UXAR and nearby provinces and countries, armed guards have ensured that no journalists enter or document conditions in the internment camps. In addition, government officials have failed to respond to foreign journalists and their questions.
While some internees have been released from the internment camps, they are quickly assigned to work in various garment and carpet factories where their movements and actions are closely monitored. It also appears that workers have little to no control over the type of work or location assigned to them, continuing forced labor even outside the camp walls. For example, one family says that a relative with a degree in oil drilling has been assigned to work in textile manufacturing.
While investigations into the actions of the Chinese government continue within several international agencies, the products produced in these forced labor camps continue to make their way on the shelves across the globe. So how can you step up? Pay close attention to where your products are sourced. Check the tags and labels and look closely to see where they were manufactured. Ensure that all of your food products were responsibly sourced and fair trade certified, and shop local when you can. The closer you can get to the source of your goods, the easier it is to ensure they were responsibly sourced and manufactured.