‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang.
What’s the problem?
The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority1 citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen.
This report estimates that more than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019, and some of them were sent directly from detention camps.2 The estimated figure is conservative and the actual figure is likely to be far higher. In factories far away from home, they typically live in segregated dormitories,3 undergo organised Mandarin and ideological training outside working hours,4 are subject to constant surveillance, and are forbidden from participating in religious observances.5 Numerous sources, including government documents, show that transferred workers are assigned minders and have limited freedom of movement.6
China has attracted international condemnation for its network of extrajudicial ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang.7 This report exposes a new phase in China’s social re-engineering campaign targeting minority citizens, revealing new evidence that some factories across China are using forced Uyghur labour under a state-sponsored labour transfer scheme that is tainting the global supply chain.
What’s the solution?
The Chinese government should uphold the civic, cultural and labour rights enshrined in China’s Constitution and domestic laws, end its extrajudicial detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, and ensure that all citizens can freely determine the terms of their own labour and mobility.
Companies using forced Uyghur labour in their supply chains could find themselves in breach of laws which prohibit the importation of goods made with forced labour or mandate disclosure of forced labour supply chain risks.9 The companies listed in this report should conduct immediate and thorough human rights due diligence on their factory labour in China, including robust and independent social audits and inspections. It is vital that through this process, affected workers are not exposed to any further harm, including involuntary transfers.
Foreign governments, businesses and civil society groups should identify opportunities to increase pressure on the Chinese government to end the use of Uyghur forced labour and extrajudicial detentions. This should include pressuring the government to ratify the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Convention on Forced Labour, 1930 (No. 29) and Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention.10 Consumers and consumer advocacy groups should demand companies that manufacture in China conduct human rights due diligence on their supply chains in order to ensure that they uphold basic human rights and are not complicit in any coercive labour schemes.
Since 2017, more than a million Uyghurs and members of other Turkic Muslim minorities have disappeared into a vast network of ‘re-education camps’ in the far west region of Xinjiang,11 in what some experts call a systematic, government-led program of cultural genocide.12 Inside the camps, detainees are subjected to political indoctrination, forced to renounce their religion and culture and, in some instances, reportedly subjected to torture.13 In the name of combating ‘religious extremism’,14 Chinese authorities have been actively remoulding the Muslim population in the image of China’s Han ethnic majority.
The ‘re-education’ campaign appears to be entering a new phase, as government officials now claim that all ‘trainees’ have ‘graduated’.15 There is mounting evidence that many Uyghurs are now being forced to work in factories within Xinjiang.16 This report reveals that Chinese factories outside Xinjiang are also sourcing Uyghur workers under a revived, exploitative government-led labour transfer scheme.17 Some factories appear to be using Uyghur workers sent directly from ‘re-education camps’.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has identified 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces that are using Uyghur labour transferred from Xinjiang since 2017. Those factories claim to be part of the supply chain of 83 well-known global brands.18 Between 2017 and 2019, we estimate that at least 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang and assigned to factories through labour transfer programs under a central government policy known as ‘Xinjiang Aid’ (援疆).19
It is extremely difficult for Uyghurs to refuse or escape these work assignments, which are enmeshed with the apparatus of detention and political indoctrination both inside and outside of Xinjiang.20 In addition to constant surveillance, the threat of arbitrary detention hangs over minority citizens who refuse their government-sponsored work assignments.21
Most strikingly, local governments and private brokers are paid a price per head by the Xinjiang provincial government to organise the labour assignments.22 The job transfers are now an integral part of the ‘re-education’ process, which the Chinese government calls ‘vocational training’.23
A local government work report from 2019 reads: ‘For every batch [of workers] that is trained, a batch of employment will be arranged and a batch will be transferred. Those employed need to receive thorough ideological education and remain in their jobs.’24
This report examines three case studies in which Uyghur workers appear to be employed under forced labour conditions by factories in China that supply major global brands. In the first case study, a factory in eastern China that manufactures shoes for US company Nike is equipped with watchtowers, barbed-wire fences and police guard boxes. The Uyghur workers, unlike their Han counterparts, are reportedly unable to go home for holidays (see page 8). In the second case study of another eastern province factory claiming to supply sportswear multinationals Adidas and Fila, evidence suggests that Uyghur workers were transferred directly from one of Xinjiang’s ‘re-education camps’ (see page 18). In the third case study, we identify several Chinese factories making components for Apple or their suppliers using Uyghur labour. Political indoctrination is a key part of their job assignments (see page 21).
This research report draws on open-source Chinese-language documents, satellite imagery analysis, academic research and on-the-ground media reporting. It analyses the politics and policies behind the new phase of the Chinese government’s ongoing repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. It provides evidence of the exploitation of Uyghur labour and the involvement of foreign and Chinese companies, possibly unknowingly, in human rights abuses.
In all, ASPI’s research has identified 83 foreign and Chinese companies directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through potentially abusive labour transfer programs as recently as 2019: Abercrombie & Fitch, Acer, Adidas, Alstom, Amazon, Apple, ASUS, BAIC Motor, BMW, Bombardier, Bosch, BYD, Calvin Klein, Candy, Carter’s, Cerruti 1881, Changan Automobile, Cisco, CRRC, Dell, Electrolux, Fila, Founder Group, GAC Group (automobiles), Gap, Geely Auto, General Electric, General Motors, Google, H&M, Haier, Hart Schaffner Marx, Hisense, Hitachi, HP, HTC, Huawei, iFlyTek, Jack & Jones, Jaguar, Japan Display Inc., L.L.Bean, Lacoste, Land Rover, Lenovo, LG, Li-Ning, Mayor, Meizu, Mercedes-Benz, MG, Microsoft, Mitsubishi, Mitsumi, Nike, Nintendo, Nokia, The North Face, Oculus, Oppo, Panasonic, Polo Ralph Lauren, Puma, Roewe, SAIC Motor, Samsung, SGMW, Sharp, Siemens, Skechers, Sony, TDK, Tommy Hilfiger, Toshiba, Tsinghua Tongfang, Uniqlo, Victoria’s Secret, Vivo, Volkswagen, Xiaomi, Zara, Zegna, ZTE. Some brands are linked with multiple factories.
The data is based on published supplier lists, media reports, and the factories’ claimed suppliers. ASPI reached out to these 83 brands to confirm their relevant supplier details. Where companies responded before publication, we have included their relevant clarifications in this report. If any company responses are made available after publication of the report, we will address these online.
ASPI notes that a small number of brands including Abercrombie & Fitch advised they have instructed their vendors to terminate their relationships with these suppliers in 2020. Others, including Adidas, Bosch and Panasonic, said they had no direct contractual relationships with the suppliers implicated in the labour schemes, but no brands were able to rule out a link further down their supply chain.
The report includes an appendix that details the factories involved and the brands that appear to have elements of forced Uyghur labour in their supply chains. It also makes specific recommendations for the Chinese government, companies, foreign governments and civil society organisations.
Forced Uyghur labour
The ILO lists 11 indicators of forced labour.25 Relevant indicators in the case of Uyghur workers may include:
- being subjected to intimidation and threats, such as the threat of arbitrary detention, and being monitored by security personnel and digital surveillance tools
- being placed in a position of dependency and vulnerability, such as by threats to family members back in Xinjiang
- having freedom of movement restricted, such as by fenced-in factories and high-tech surveillance
- isolation, such as living in segregated dormitories and being transported in dedicated trains
- abusive working conditions, such as political indoctrination, police guard posts in factories, ‘military-style’ management, and a ban on religious practices
- excessive hours, such as after-work Mandarin language classes and political indoctrination sessions that are part of job assignments.26
Chinese state media claims that participation in labour transfer programs is voluntary, and Chinese officials have denied any commercial use of forced labour from Xinjiang.27 However, Uyghur workers who have been able to leave China and speak out describe the constant fear of being sent back to a detention camp in Xinjiang or even a traditional prison while working at the factories.28
In factories outside Xinjiang, there is evidence that their lives are far from free. Referred to as ‘surplus labour’ (富余劳动力) or ‘poverty-stricken labour’ (贫困劳动力), Uyghur workers are often transported across China in special segregated trains,29 and in most cases are returned home by the same method after their contracts end a year or more later.30
Multiple sources suggest that in factories across China, many Uyghur workers lead a harsh, segregated life under so-called ‘military-style management’ (军事化管理).31 Outside work hours, they attend factory-organised Mandarin language classes, participate in ‘patriotic education’,32 and are prevented from practising their religion.33 Every 50 Uyghur workers are assigned one government minder and are monitored by dedicated security personnel.34 They have little freedom of movement and live in carefully guarded dormitories, isolated from their families and children back in Xinjiang.35 There is also evidence that, at least in some factories, they are paid less than their Han counterparts,36 despite state media claims that they’re paid attractive wages.37
The Chinese authorities and factory bosses manage Uyghur workers by ‘tracking’ them both physically and electronically.38 One provincial government document describes a central database, developed by Xinjiang’s Human Resources and Social Affairs Department and maintained by a team of 100 specialists in Xinjiang, that records the medical, ideological and employment details of each labourer.39
The database incorporates information from social welfare cards that store workers’ personal details. It also extracts information from a WeChat40 group and an unnamed smartphone app that tracks the movements and activities of each worker.41
Chinese companies and government officials also pride themselves on being able to alter their Uyghur workers’ ideological outlook and transform them into ‘modern’ citizens, who, they say, become ‘more physically attractive’42 and learn to ‘take daily showers’.43
In some cases, local governments in Xinjiang send Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadres to simultaneously surveil workers’ families back home in Xinjiang44— a reminder to workers that any misbehaviour in the factory will have immediate consequences for their loved ones and further evidence that their participation in the program is far from voluntary.
A person with knowledge of a Uyghur labour transfer program in Fujian told Bitter Winter, a religious and human rights NGO, that the workers were all former ‘re-education camp’ detainees and were threatened with further detention if they disobeyed the government’s work assignments.45 A Uyghur person sent to work in Fujian also told the NGO that police regularly search their dormitories and check their phones for any religious content. If a Quran is found, the owner will be sent back to the ‘re-education camp’ for 3–5 years.46
The treatment of Uyghurs described in this report’s case studies is in breach of China’s Constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity or religious belief,47 as well as international law. While we are unable to confirm that all employment transfers from Xinjiang are forced, the cases for which adequate detail has been available showcase highly disturbing coercive labour practices consistent with ILO definitions of forced labour.
Case study 1: Uyghur workers making Nike sneakers in Qingdao
Figure 1: Uyghur workers at Taekwang Shoe Manufacturing waving the Chinese flag, October 2019
In January 2020, around 600 ethnic minority workers from Xinjiang were employed at Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd (青岛泰光制鞋有限公司).48 Taekwang’s primary customer is the American multinational company Nike Incorporated.49 The Xinjiang workers are mostly Uyghur women from Hotan and Kashgar prefectures, which are remote parts of southern Xinjiang that the Chinese government has described as ‘backward’ and ‘disturbed by religious extremism’.50
At the factory, the Uyghur labourers make Nike shoes during the day. In the evening, they attend a night school where they study Mandarin, sing the Chinese national anthem and receive ‘vocational training’ and ‘patriotic education’.51 The curriculum closely mirrors that of Xinjiang’s ‘re-education camps’.52
The sprawling Taekwang factory compound is located in Laixi City, to the north of Qingdao in China’s Shandong province, and is owned by the Taekwang Group, a South Korean chemical and textile conglomerate (chaebol). Taekwang’s Laixi factory is one of the largest manufacturers of shoes for Nike,53 producing more than seven million pairs for the American brand annually.54
Figure 2: Taekwang supply chain
In June 2019, at the opening ceremony of the Taekwang night school, a government official from the local United Front Work Department55 office called on Uyghur workers to strengthen their identification with the state and the nation.56 The school is called the ‘Pomegranate Seed’ Night School (Figure 3), referencing a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping in which he said ‘every ethnic group must tightly bind together like the seeds of a pomegranate.’57
The Washington Post has reported that Uyghurs working at the factory were not allowed to go home for holidays.58
The newspaper also reported that Uyghur workers at the factory were sent there by the Xinjiang government, they did not choose to come to Qingdao, and that they were unable to practice their religion.
Photographs of the factory in January 2020 published by the newspaper show that the complex was equipped with watchtowers, razor wire and inward-facing barbed-wire fences. Uyghur workers were free to walk in the streets around the factory compound, but their comings and goings were closely monitored by a police station at the side gate equipped with facial recognition cameras.
The Uyghur workers at the Taekwang factory speak almost no Mandarin, so communication with locals is largely non-existent, according to the newspaper. They eat in a separate canteen or a Muslim restaurant across the road from the factory, where the ‘halal’ signs have been crossed out. They live in buildings next to the factory that are separate quarters from those of the Han workers.59
ASPI found evidence that inside the factories, the workers’ ideology and behaviour are closely monitored. At a purpose-built ‘psychological dredging office’ (心理疏导室), Han and Uyghur officials from Taekwang’s local women’s federation conduct ‘heart-to-heart’ talks, provide psychological consulting and assist in the uplifting of the ‘innate quality’ (素质) of the Uyghur workers—in order to aid their integration.60 Those offices and roles are also present in Xinjiang’s ‘re-education camps’.61
Top Chinese government officials see the use and management of ethnic workers at Taekwang as a model worth emulating. Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Yang and China’s Minister for Public Security, Zhao Kezhi, sent a commendation memo to the management, according to a local media report in late 2019.62 From 2017 to 2018, according to official statistics, 4,710 Uyghur workers were transferred from Xinjiang to Shandong (almost double the government’s own target).63
The workers are closely monitored by party authorities. Officials from the local offices of the Public Security Bureau and United Front Work Department hold regular meetings with Shandong companies that hire “Uyghurs” to discuss the workers’ ‘ideological trends and any issues that have emerged’.64
Those agencies also have representatives stationed inside factories like Taekwang to report daily on the ‘thoughts’ of the Uyghur workers, manage any disputes and guard against spontaneous ‘mass instances’.65 In 2018, a recruitment notice said that Qingdao was looking for auxiliary police who are fluent in minority languages.66 In Xinjiang, auxiliary police officers are responsible for bringing people to detention camps and monitoring them when they are in detention.67
Figure 5: A July 2018 ‘farewell ceremony’ before 176 Uyghur workers left Qira county, Xinjiang for Qingdao to work at Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd and Fulin Electronics Company
In January 2018, local Hotan media published a ‘letter of gratitude’ from 130 Uyghur workers at Taekwang to the Hotan Prefecture government.68 In the letter, which was written in Mandarin, the Uyghur workers described themselves as being mired in poverty before being sent to Qingdao and express gratitude that they were now able to earn a monthly salary of Ұ2,850 (US$413, above the minimum wage in China).69 ASPI could not verify the wages received by the workers or the authenticity of the letter. The letter goes on to say that, since arriving in Qingdao, the workers had learned the dangers of religious extremism and now see a ‘beautiful life ahead of them’.70
Rendering ‘Xinjiang Aid’(援疆)
Working arrangements that uproot Uyghurs and place them in factories in eastern and central China are not new. Since the early 2000s, the Chinese government has mobilised wealthier coastal provinces and cities to develop frontier regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet, and actively encouraged the movement of workers in the name of promoting ‘inter-ethnic fusion’ (民族交融) and ‘poverty alleviation’ (扶贫).71
Uyghur workers’ participation in those programs is rarely voluntary. Even in the 2000s, well before the ‘re-education camp’ system was created, working and living conditions for transferred Uyghur workers were often exploitative, if not abusive.72 Rights groups criticised the programs as coercive, highlighting how they intentionally removed Uyghurs from their homes and traditional way of life, only to force the workers to endure the long working hours, poor conditions, predatory bosses and discriminatory attitudes of their Han co-workers.73
Concerned factory bosses significantly reduced the use of Uyghur labour after violent clashes between Han and Uyghur workers in a Guangdong factory led to a deadly riot in Xinjiang’s regional capital of Urumqi in July 2009.74
In response to the unrest, the Chinese government began holding regular national ‘Xinjiang Aid’ conferences in 2010.75 Financial subsidies and political inducements were offered to mobilise wealthier provinces and cities to pair up with cities and prefectures in Xinjiang in order to ‘aid’ the region’s development and stability.76
Provinces have since been encouraged to contribute to the aid scheme in various ways: “‘medical Xinjiang Aid’ (医疗援疆), ‘technology Xinjiang Aid’ (科技援疆), ‘educational Xinjiang Aid’ (教育援疆) and ‘industrial Xinjiang Aid’ (产业援疆).77
Following further violence and the mass detention of Uyghurs in early 2017,78 the ‘Xinjiang Aid’ agenda became a top political priority.79 Local governments and corporations were strongly encouraged to find employment opportunities for newly ‘re-educated’ Uyghurs, under a policy termed ‘industrial Xinjiang Aid’.80
‘Industrial Xinjiang Aid’ seeks to assign work to ‘idle’ Uyghurs in the name of poverty alleviation, but it also shares the same indoctrination aims as the ‘re-education camp’ system: factory bosses are expected to fundamentally alter Uyghur workers by reforming their ‘backward qualities’ and sinicising them.81 In exchange, Uyghur workers are required to show ‘gratitude’ to the Communist Party and their Han ‘elder sisters and brothers’.82
Companies across China can participate in industrial ‘Xinjiang Aid’ in two ways:
- opening up ‘satellite’ factories (卫星工厂) or workshops inside Xinjiang to absorb ‘surplus labour capacity’ (富余劳动力).83 According to China’s Xinhua News Agency, in the past few years, ‘Xinjiang Aid’ has seen some 4,400 enterprises set up in Xinjiang, providing nearly a million local jobs84
- hiring Uyghur workers for their factories elsewhere in China through a range of labour transfer schemes.
Some companies, such as Hao Yuanpeng Clothing Co. Ltd (浩缘朋服装有限公司)—a garment company headquartered in Anhui province that claims to supply Fila (Italy/South Korea) and Adidas (Germany)—are engaged in both those forms of industrial aid.85
By late 2018, cheap labour emerging from the ‘re-education camps’ had become an important driver of Xinjiang’s economy, according to an official statement by the Xinjiang Development and Reform Commission.86 There is now a direct pipeline of Uyghur workers from ‘vocational training’ and political indoctrination in Xinjiang to factory work across China. ‘For every batch (of workers) that is trained, a batch of employment will be arranged and the batch will be transferred’, a 2019 government work report from Karakax county reads.87 In some cases, labour transfers outside of Xinjiang are organised even before vocational training and political indoctrination start—to ensure ‘100% employment rate’ for the ‘trained’ Uyghurs.88
Xinjiang’s labour transfer program
Data collected from Chinese state media and official government notices indicates that more than 80,000 Uyghur workers were transferred out of Xinjiang between 2017 and 2019. ASPI has mapped the available data on these transfers. The larger the arrow in Figure 6, the greater the number of people being transferred. Dotted lines represent known direct county-to-factory transfers. The diagram shouldn’t be considered comprehensive, but gives a sense of the scale and scope of the program.89
Figure 6: Uyghur transfers to other parts of China from 2017 to 2020
The Chinese government’s official data on labour transfer includes transfers from southern Xinjiang to northern Xinjiang, transfers from Xinjiang to other provinces, and transfers to local factories. Depending on the county, labourers sent outside Xinjiang count for anywhere between 10%90 to 50%91 of all Xinjiang transfers.
In recent years, transfers from Xinjiang to other parts of China have increased steadily. In 2017, according to state media reports, 20,859 ‘rural surplus labourers’ from Xinjiang were transferred to work in other provinces.92 Based on ASPI’s analysis of published data, an estimated 28,000 people were transferred for employment in 2018.93 In 2019, an estimated 32,000 people were transferred out of the region.94
Xinjiang authorities also claim to have repeatedly exceeded their labour transfer targets.95 The 2017 target was set at 20,000 and exceeded by 4%.96 In 2019, the target was set at 25,000 and reportedly exceeded by about 25%.97
ASPI analysed the volume of results returned by the Chinese search engine Baidu98 when we searched for keywords related to labour transfer schemes. Figure 7 illustrates a steady increase since 2014 (the year hardline CCP Secretary Chen Quanguo arrived in Xinjiang), and an even more dramatic increase from 2017 as the ‘re-education’ process ramped up. This is a further suggestion that the labour transfer program has become an increasingly important political priority for the Chinese government in recent years.
Aside from political incentives, the business of ‘buying’ and ‘selling’ Uyghur labour can be quite lucrative for local governments and commercial brokers. According to a 2018 Xinjiang provincial government notice, for every rural ‘surplus labourer’99 transferred to work in another part of Xinjiang for over nine months, the organiser is awarded Ұ20 (US$3); however, for labour transfers outside of Xinjiang, the figure jumps 15-fold to Ұ300 (US$43.25).100 Receiving factories across China are also compensated by the Xinjiang government, receiving a Ұ1,000 (US$144.16) cash inducement for each worker they contract for a year, and Ұ5,000 (US$720.80) for a three-year contract.101 The statutory minimum wage in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s regional capital, was Ұ1620 (US$232.08) a month in 2018.102
In recent years, advertisements for ‘government-sponsored Uyghur labour’ also began to appear online. In February 2019, a company based in Qingdao published a notice advertising a large number of ‘government-led … qualified, secure and reliable’ Uyghur workers for transfer to some 10 provinces in China (Figure 8).103
Figure 8: Advertisement published by Qingdao Decai Decoration Co. claiming to supply government-sponsored Uyghur workers from Xinjiang to other provinces.
Another new advertisement claimed to be able to supply 1,000 Uyghur workers aged 16 to 18 years. It reads: ‘The advantages of Xinjiang workers are: semi-military style management, can withstand hardship, no loss of personnel … Minimum order 100 workers!’. The advertisement also said that factory managers can apply for current Xinjiang police to be stationed at their factory 24 hours a day, and that the workers could be delivered (along with an Uyghur cook) within 15 days of the signing of a one-year contract (Figure 9).
Case study 2: From ‘re-education camps’ to forced labour assignments
New evidence indicates that ‘graduating’ detainees from Xinjiang’s ‘re-education camps’ have been sent directly to factories to work in other parts of China. In such circumstances, it is unlikely that their work arrangements are voluntary.
The Haoyuanpeng Clothing Manufacturing Co. Ltd (浩缘朋制衣有限公司, HYP) participates in ‘Xinjiang Aid’ both through its satellite factory104 in Xinjiang (established in 2018) and by exporting Uyghur workers to Anhui province, where it is headquartered. On HYP’s corporate website, it advertises strategic partnerships with the Italian–South Korean fashion label Fila, German sportswear companies Adidas and Puma, and Nike.105
In February 2018, HYP transferred 63 workers from Xinjiang to its Anhui factory in eastern China with plans to eventually transfer 500 in total.106 The transferred workers were all ‘graduates’ of the Jiashi County Secondary Vocational School (伽师县中等职业学校), according to a government report.107
ASPI’s analysis of satellite imagery and official documents suggest the ‘school’ had operated as a ‘re-education camp’ since 2017. The compound increased in size, adding new dormitories and factory warehouses while significant security features were added through the introduction of secure ‘military-style management’ (see Figure 10).108
Figure 10: Satellite image of Jiashi Vocational School, January 2018, with security infrastructure added since 2017 highlighted in orange.
A spokesperson from Adidas said the company does not have an active relationship with HYP and that they will further investigate the use of the Adidas signage.
The transfer of Uyghur labour to Anhui was part of a ‘Xinjiang Aid’ project organised by the Guangdong government, which also involved HYP setting up a highly secure factory in Xinjiang’s Shule (Yengixahar) county (Figure 11).109
Figure 11: Satellite image of HYP’s factory in Shule (Yengixahar) county, Xinjiang
In a recent interview, HYP President Zeng Yifa (曾亿法) told state media that he established a factory in Xinjiang because it was difficult to find young workers in other parts of China, or even abroad, concluding that: ‘Although the quality of North Korean workers is good, I’m reluctant to spend money on foreign workers. In the end, I chose Xinjiang.’110
HYP’s factory in Xinjiang, which has a large Adidas billboard on its facade (Figure 13), is surrounded by a 3-metre-high fence. The two entrances to the factory are guarded by security checkpoints, and at least five more security posts monitor the rest of the facility’s perimeter. It is unclear whether HYP’s factory in Anhui province has similar security features.
Figure 12: HYP’s supply chain
Figure 13: Hao Yuanpeng’s Kashgar, Xinjiang factory.
Case study 3: ‘Re-educating’ Uyghur workers in Apple’s supply chain
In December 2017, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook visited one of the company’s contractors—O-Film Technology Co. Ltd (欧菲光科技股份有限公司)111—and posted a picture of himself at the company’s Guangzhou factory on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.112
O-Film manufactured113 the ‘selfie cameras’ for the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. The company also claims on its website to manufacture camera modules and touchscreen components for a number of other well-known companies including Huawei, Lenovo and Samsung.114
Figure 14: Tim Cook’s Weibo post from O-Film’s Guangzhou factory in December 2017
Prior to Cook’s visit, between 28 April and 1 May 2017, 700 Uyghurs were reportedly transferred from Lop county, Hotan Prefecture, in Xinjiang to work at a separate O-Film factory in Nanchang, Jiangxi province.115
As with other labour transfers from Xinjiang described in this report, the work assignments for the Uyghurs sent to Jiangxi were highly politicised. The workers were expected to ‘gradually alter their ideology’ and turn into ‘modern, capable youth’ who ‘understand the Party’s blessing, feel gratitude toward the Party, and contribute to stability,’ a local Xinjiang newspaper wrote.116 Once in Jiangxi, they were managed by a few minders sent by Lop county who were ‘politically reliable’ and knew both Mandarin and the Uyghur language.117
According to a now deleted press release,118 Cook praised the company for its ‘humane approach towards employees’ during his visit to O-Film, asserting that workers seemed ‘able to gain growth at the company, and live happily.’119
Five months later, in October 2017, the Hotan government in Xinjiang contacted O-Film, hoping to supply another 1,300 workers.120 On 12 December 2017, a Uyghur worker who claimed to have worked at O-Film said that there were more than a thousand Uyghur workers at the O-Film factory in Jiangxi.121
Figure 15: O-Film Supply Chain
O-Film is not the only Chinese factory using Uyghur labour to make parts for Apple and its suppliers.
This report identifies three other factories in Apple’s supply chain.
A local government document from September 2019 said that 560 Xinjiang labourers were transferred to work in factories in central Henan province—including Foxconn Technology (Foxconn)’s Zhengzhou facility.122 Foxconn, a Taiwanese company, is the biggest contract electronics manufacturer in the world, making devices for Apple, Dell and Sony, among others.123 The Zhengzhou facility reportedly makes half of the world’s iPhones and is the reason why Zhengzhou city is dubbed the ‘iPhone city’.124
It is unclear how the Uyghur workers are treated at the Zhengzhou facility. However, a September 2019 report by New York-based China Labour Watch said contract workers at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory—which includes Uyghur workers—put in at least 100 overtime hours a month.125 Over the past decade, Foxconn has been marred by allegations of worker exploitation and even suicides, including recently at its Zhengzhou facility.126 The company has also actively participated in the ‘Xinjiang Aid’ scheme.127
Figure 16: Uyghur workers arriving at Hubei Yihong Precision Manufacturing Co. Ltd
On 17 May 2018, 105 Uyghur workers were transferred from Keriya county, Xinjiang, to Hubei Yihong Precision Manufacturing Co. Ltd (湖北奕宏精密制造有限公司, Hubei Yihong) in Xianning, Hubei province.128 Upon the workers’ arrival, a senior communist party official visited the Hubei Yihong factory. In a speech, he put forward three demands: for the workers to exercise gratitude to the Communist Party, for the managers to increase surveillance and intensify patriotic education, and for the workers to quickly blend in.129
Hubei Yihong makes backlights and battery covers130. It is a subsidiary of Dongguan Yidong Electronic Co. Ltd (东莞市奕东电子有限公司), whose website claims that its end customers include Apple and Huawei131. While neither Hubei Yihong nor its parent company is included in Apple’s supplier list, Hubei Yihong’s website lists GoerTek, which directly supplies Apple with AirPods, as one of their customers132.
Figure 17: Hubei Yihong Supply Chain
In 2017, another electronics company that claims to make components for Apple’s supplier, Hefei Highbroad Advanced Material Co. Ltd (翰博高新材料（合肥）股份有限公司, Highbroad) signed a contract with the Hotan government to take in 1,000 Uyghurs each year for the next three years, according to the company’s vice president.133 Later that year, more than 500 Uyghurs from rural Guma county in Hotan Prefecture were transported to Hefei in Anhui province to begin work in Highbroad’s electronics factory.134
In 2018, 544 Uyghurs were transferred from Guma county to a Highbroad subsidiary, also in Hefei, called Fuying Photoelectric Co. Ltd (合肥福映光电有限公司).135 At Fuying, according to state media, Aynur Memetyusup, a young Uyghur woman, learned to improve her Mandarin and workplace discipline and to take daily showers that made ‘her long hair more flowing than ever.’ She is quoted as saying, ‘Like President Xi has said, happiness is always the result of struggle.’136
Figure 18: A picture of Aynur Memetyusup (first from left) in an after-work Mandarin class at Highbroad Advanced Material Co. Ltd in Hefei, Anhui province
According to the company’s 2018 annual report,137 Highbroad’s main products are components for flat panel displays—the LCD and OLED screens used in many smartphones, tablets and computers. Highbroad notes that 79.19% of its operating revenue comes from sales to the Beijing-based multinational company BOE Technology Group Co. Ltd (京东方), which is one of the world’s largest producers of electronic displays. BOE is currently a major screen supplier to Huawei138 and is set to become Apple’s second-largest OLED screen supplier by 2021.139 BOE is currently listed on Apple’s supplier list.140
According to Highbroad’s website their customers include Japan Display Inc. and LG Display.141 Highbroad’s hiring ads142 and a Chinese LCD industry directory143 also claim that Highbroad’s end customers include other well-known companies including Dell, Lenovo, Samsung and Sony, and automobile manufacturers such as BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen (Figure 18).
Figure 19: Highbroad supply chain
Implications for the global supply chain
The rapid expansion of the nationwide system of Uyghur labour presents a new challenge for foreign companies operating in China. How do they secure the integrity of their supply chains and protect their brands from the reputational and legal risks of being associated with forced, discriminatory or abusive labour practices? Interwoven supply chains and the mixed nature of their workforces, which draw on both Han and Uyghur workers, make it particularly difficult for companies to ensure that their products are not associated with forced labour. These labour transfer schemes also present a challenge to the reputation of Chinese brands overseas.
In all, ASPI’s research has identified 83 foreign and Chinese companies directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through potentially abusive labour transfer programs: Abercrombie & Fitch, Acer, Adidas, Alstom, Amazon, Apple, ASUS, BAIC Motor, BMW, Bombardier, Bosch, BYD, Calvin Klein, Candy, Carter’s, Cerruti 1881, Changan Automobile, Cisco, CRRC, Dell, Electrolux, Fila, Founder Group, GAC Group (automobiles), Gap, Geely Auto, General Electric, General Motors, Google, H&M, Haier, Hart Schaffner Marx, Hisense, Hitachi, HP, HTC, Huawei, iFlyTek, Jack & Jones, Jaguar, Japan Display Inc., L.L.Bean, Lacoste, Land Rover, Lenovo, LG, Li-Ning, Marks & Spencer, Mayor, Meizu, Mercedes-Benz, MG, Microsoft, Mitsubishi, Mitsumi, Nike, Nintendo, Nokia, The North Face, Oculus, Oppo, Panasonic, Polo Ralph Lauren, Puma, Roewe, SAIC Motor, Samsung, SGMW, Sharp, Siemens, Skechers, Sony, TDK, Tommy Hilfiger, Toshiba, Tsinghua Tongfang, Uniqlo, Victoria’s Secret, Vivo, Volkswagen, Xiaomi, Zara, Zegna, ZTE. Some brands are linked with multiple factories.
The data is based on published supplier lists, media reports, and the factories’ claimed suppliers. ASPI reached out to these 83brands to confirm their relevant supplier details. Where companies responded before publication, we have included their relevant clarifications in this report. If any company responses are made available after publication of this report, we will address these online.
A further 54 companies are implicated in what could be forced labour schemes within Xinjiang itself (see appendix)—some of which overlap with the 83 companies linked to forced Uyghur labour outside of Xinjiang. It is important to note that not all companies have the same levels of exposure to Uyghur forced labour. Some finished products are directly manufactured by these workers, while others pass through complicated supply chains.
The appendix to this report lists 35 documented labour transfer programs under ‘Xinjiang Aid’ since 2017. The table includes the following information:
- transfers to factories in central and eastern provinces of China
- transfers to purpose-built factories within Xinjiang
- the number of people moved to the factories
- the products they make
- the companies the factories claim they supply.
In the past three years, the ‘re-education camp’ system in Xinjiang has drawn international condemnation. Now the culture and ethos of ‘re-education’ is being exported well beyond Xinjiang and married with practices that likely amount to forced labour.
This report establishes that some workers employed through labour transfer schemes at factories across China are sourced directly from the ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang. Ethnic minority workers from Xinjiang who are not known to be former detainees may also be forced to work under threat of detention, the intimidation of family members and a range of restrictions on their freedom. The tainted global supply chain that results from these practices means that it is now difficult to guarantee that products manufactured in China are free from forced labour.144
We have found that a large number of Chinese and multinational companies are sourcing components or products from factories that proudly boast about their Uyghur workers, such as Taekwang145 and HYP.146 This situation poses new risks—reputational and legal—for companies and consumers purchasing goods from China, as products made in any part of the country, not just in Xinjiang, may have passed through the hands of forced labourers. This situation also creates new risks for investors in those companies—from private investors to wealth management funds—who may now find themselves indirectly linked to forced labour practices.
The response to the abuses identified in this report should not involve a knee-jerk rejection of Uyghur or Chinese labour. The problem is the policies that require Uyghurs to work under duress in violation of well-established international labour laws. It is vital that, as these problems are addressed, Uyghur labourers are not placed in positions of greater harm or, for example, involuntarily transferred back to Xinjiang, where their safety cannot necessarily be guaranteed. In light of this report’s findings, we make the following recommendations.
The Chinese government should:
- give multinational companies unfettered access to allow them to investigate any abusive or forced labour practices in factories in China
- uphold the rights of all workers in China, especially those from vulnerable ethnic minorities, to determine how their labour is deployed and the conditions under which they leave their place of residence
- ratify the ILO International Labour Standards; structure a comprehensive grievance mechanism, including for the investigation of alleged cases of forced labour; provide victims with protection and remedies; and prosecute perpetrators
- uphold the legitimate rights of China’s citizens, including by protecting ethnic and religious rights enshrined in the Chinese Constitution.147
Companies using forced Uyghur labour in their supply chains could find themselves in breach of laws which prohibit the importation of goods made with forced labour or mandate disclosure of forced labour supply chain risks.148
Each company listed in this report should:
- conduct immediate and thorough human rights due diligence on its factory labour in China, including robust and independent social audits and inspections. The audits and inspections should include a stocktake of the conditions and current and ongoing safety of vulnerable workers
- if it finds that factories are implicated in forced labour, seek to use its leverage to address improper labour practices. In all cases where harm has occurred, it should take appropriate and immediate remedial action. Where it cannot, it should cease working with those factories
- ensure that it is fully transparent as it seeks to address all potential harms, including by reporting its due diligence and audit findings publicly.
Foreign governments should:
- identify opportunities to increase pressure on the Chinese government to end the use and facilitation of Uyghur forced labour and mass extrajudicial detention, including through the use of targeted sanctions on senior officials responsible for Xinjiang’s coercive labour transfers
- review trade agreements to restrict commodities and products being produced with forced labour
- identify opportunities to pressure the Chinese government into ratifying the Convention on Forced Labour, 1930 (No. 29),149 Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No.105)150 and the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention.151
Consumers and civil society groups, including NGOs, labour unions and consumer advocacy groups, should:
- demand that companies that manufacture in China conduct due diligence and social audits to ensure that they’re not complicit in forced labour practices
- advocate for the recognition of continual, multilayered surveillance and monitoring of workers and their digital communications—both in and outside work hours—as an emerging and under-reported indicator of forced labour and an important human rights violation
- push brands to be more transparent about the make-up of their supply chains and the preventative measures they have put in place to ensure forced labour does not occur
- demand that companies make new public commitments, uphold current commitments, or both, to not use forced and coerced labour in their global supply chains and that they act quickly and publicly when such cases are identified.
Appendices, Citations and Notes
Readers are encouraged to download the PDF to access the appendix, full and extensive citations and notes that accompany this report.
The authors would like to thank researchers Daria Impiombato, Sarah O’Connor and Emily Weinstein. A special thanks to Stephanie Zhang who spent an enormous amount of time on this project. We would like to thank all peer reviewers including Darren Byler, labour specialists and anonymous reviewers. Finally, we would like to thank ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre Director Fergus Hanson for his support and guidance.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office provided ASPI with funding of £10,000, which was used towards this report.
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First published February 2020.
ISSN 2209-9689 (online),
ISSN 2209-9670 (print)
Cover illustration: Courtesy of Yip Wong.