The paper claims Xinjiang prevents and punishes any incidents of forced labour

The paper claims Xinjiang prevents and punishes any incidents of forced labour

China has hit back at allegations over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang by saying its actions in the region are focused on counterterrorism and anti-separatism.

A white paper published by the The State Council Information Office of the People's Republic of China defends its "tremendous efforts" to protect human rights and accuses "certain international forces" of fabricating facts to support their claims of forced labour in the region.

It says Xinjiang focuses on areas of extreme poverty and key groups with difficulty finding work. It guides people of all ethnic groups to find work nearby, or to locate jobs or start their own businesses in cities and encourages the impoverished workforce to seek employment outside their hometowns.

From 2014 to 2019, the total number of people employed in Xinjiang rose from 11.35m to 13.3m, an increase of 17.2%, the document states. 

It adds the income of residents and workers has increased steadily and claims Xinjiang has wiped out poverty in 25 counties between 2013-2019 and says by the end of 2020, poverty will be completely eliminated in the region.

The paper notes China's Criminal Law, Labor Law, Labor Contract Law, and Public Security Administrative Punishment Law all stipulate that the following actions are strictly forbidden and will lead to administrative punishments: forcing a person to work by means of violence, threat, or illegal limitation of personal freedom; or affronting, physically punishing, beating, illegally searching or detaining an employee. Should it be established that a crime has taken place, the perpetrator will be subjected to a criminal investigation. 

In March, a study from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) alleged more than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang between 2017-19 to work in factories including ones making garments and footwear.

Since this time, the US has taken several steps to enforce action against firms continuing to trade or conduct business in Xinjiang.

In July, it blacklisted one of Esquel Group's Chinese spinning mills alleging it is engaged in the forced labour of Uyghurs to the same list. Most recently, the US issued Five new Withhold Release Orders (WRO) on products imported into the United States from China – including apparel items and cotton linked to the Xinjiang region.

Swedish retailer H&M also cut ties with a yarn mill in Xinjiang with which it had an "indirect relationship" after it was alleged to be engaged in forced labour. 

But the paper maintains Xinjiang guarantees workers' freedom of religious belief and the right to use their own spoken and written languages; right to employment, remuneration; rest and leisure and occupational safety; and worker rights and interests.

"Xinjiang strictly observes the relevant laws and regulations of the state, providing information on the law through education campaigns, strengthening the legal awareness of employers and employees, and conducting routine inspections to ensure that labour laws are enforced. The goal is to bring the establishment, management, supervision and arbitration of labour relations under legal scrutiny, and take resolute action to prevent or punish any incidents of forced labour.

"Respecting and protecting human rights are principles enshrined in the Constitution of China. The CPC and the Chinese government have always prioritised the protection of the citizens' rights to work and employment; we have taken a resolute stance against forced labour and eradicated it in any form. Xinjiang's policies and practices concerning employment and job security comply with China's Constitution and relevant laws, conform to international labor and human rights standards, and support the will of all ethnic groups to live a better life. They have served to meet the people's needs, improve their wellbeing, and win their support.

"Work helps to make a difference and create happiness. Looking forward, Xinjiang will continue its commitment to the people-centred philosophy of development, adhere to the principle that employment is of paramount importance to people's wellbeing, implement the strategy of giving priority to employment, and introduce more proactive policies to boost employment. With tireless efforts it will strive to grow employment in volume and quality, to meet the growing expectation of all ethnic groups for a better life."

The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly yesterday (22 September) to take comprehensive action against the import of apparel and other goods from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The move comes less than a week after Steve Lamar, president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), warned US lawmakers a total US import ban on cotton products from the Xinjiang region over forced labour concerns would "wreak unending havoc" on global supply chains