More than half a million people from ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang have been coerced into picking cotton, on a scale far greater than previously thought.
The Xinjiang region produces more than 20% of the world’s cotton and 84% of China’s, but according to a new report by the Center for Global Policy there is significant evidence that it is “tainted” by human rights abuses, including forced labour of Uighur and other Turkic Muslim minority people.
The revelations came as the international criminal court (ICC) said it did not have the jurisdiction to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide in Xinjiang. China’s treatment of the minority populations – including the mass internment of people in re-education camps, enforced sterilisation of women, technological and human surveillance – has been labelled cultural genocide by analysts. In July, exiled Uighurs delivered a dossier of evidence to the ICC asking it to investigate crimes against humanity and genocide in Xinjiang. On Monday, the office of prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said it was unable to do so because the alleged crimes happened inside China, which was outside the ICC’s jurisdiction.
China’s labour transfer scheme is purported to be part of the government’s massive poverty alleviation campaign, but growing evidence indicates it targets Uighur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and coerces participation. Areas in the south of Xinjiang – which produce a far larger share of the cotton – remain heavily reliant on manual picking. And while the number of workers brought in from other provinces for the harvest season had dropped, the report found the proportion of local ethnic minority labourers had increased dramatically. 570,000 people came through three minority-heavy prefectures alone – Aksu, Hotan, and Kashgar – and that labor programs in other ethnic minority regions as well as prison labor would probably add hundreds of thousands to the figure.
In September research which was corroborated by Reuters, found authorities in Tibet were massively expanding the labour transfer program, setting quotas to move hundreds of thousands of people off their land and into military-style work training facilities.