China is using Uighur labor as part of the global supply chain for personal protective equipment in an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
The workers are assigned as part of a Chinese program to turn Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Province, mostly Uighurs and Kazakhs, into factory workers and indoctrinate them to become more obedient and loyal to the state. The program is considered by observers to employ forced labor, in an attempt to eradicate the workers’ ethnic and religious identity.
Out of 51 companies in Xinjiang that currently produce medical equipment, primarily for domestic use, 17 participate in the labor program. Several other companies outside of Xinjiang that produce supplies for export also make use of Uighur labor.
The Times traced one shipment of face masks that ended up in Georgia in the U.S. to a factory in Hubei Province. That factory uses a contingent of Uighur laborers who are required to learn Mandarin and pledge loyalty to the Chinese state.
The Chinese embassy in the U.S. told the Times that the labor program helps “local residents rise above poverty through employment and lead fulfilling lives.”
Over the past several years, China has developed a system of detention camps in which it holds roughly one million Uighur and other Muslim citizens of Xinjiang. Chinese authorities claim the camps are necessary to prevent terrorism, however widespread reports of human rights abuses, including torture, have emerged from the camps.
China is also engaging in a campaign of forced sterilizations and family separation on the Uighur population of Xinjiang. The campaign of mass birth control has led to a sharp drop in the Uighur birth rate.