Top global brands accused of using forced Chinese labour

A photo taken on June 4, 2019, shows a facility believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, north of Akto in China's northwestern Xinjiang region. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - China is transferring tens of thousands of Uygur detainees out of internment camps and into factories that supply some of the world's leading brands, an Australian think tank said on Monday (March 2).

Top global brands such as Apple, BMW and Sony have been accused of getting supplies from factories using the forced labour, an explosive allegation that could reverberate in boardrooms across the world.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute said the Chinese government has transferred 80,000 or more Uygurs out of camps in Xinjiang and into factories across the country.

"Uygurs 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," the think tank said.

"Some factories across China are using forced Uygurs labour under a state-sponsored labour transfer scheme that is tainting the global supply chain."

The brands, it added, included "Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen".

"Companies using forced Uygurs 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," the report said.

"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."

AFP has contacted the firms for a response to the claims.

Apple referred AFP to an earlier statement it issued, which said the firm was "dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our supply chain is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve."

"We work closely with all our suppliers to ensure our high standards are upheld," the statement said.

China's foreign ministry on Monday slammed the ASPI report as having "no factual basis", and accused the institute of attempting to "smear China's efforts to oppose terrorism and fight extremism in Xinjiang."

The Xinjiang measures have "achieved good results" and "all participants undergoing anti-extremism education have graduated and achieved stable employment," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijiang said at a regular press briefing.

An estimated one million mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been held in internment camps in Xinjiang.

After initially denying their existence, Beijing cast the facilities as "vocational education centres" where "students" learn Mandarin and job skills in an effort to steer them away from religious extremism, terrorism and separatism.

Rights groups and witnesses accuse China of forcibly trying to draw Uygurs away from their Islamic customs and integrate them into the majority Han culture.

Officially, the Chinese government says it is transferring "surplus" Xinjiang labour to other regions in the name of poverty alleviation.

According to official news agency Xinhua, more than 25,000 workers from Xinjiang were slated to be transferred "inland" in 2019. The Xinjiang government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

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