• China used the labor of persecuted Uighur people to make personal protective equipment (PPE) that was then exported to the US and other countries, a new New York Times report found.
  • Many Chinese factories use a work program to recruit Uighur employees, The Times reported, which experts say is forced labor.
  • China has detained at least one million Uighurs in detention camps, which it euphemistically bills as “re-education” camps, and keeps Uighurs under strong surveillance.
  • Previous reports have found that companies like Nike and Apple have also worked with suppliers that use Uighur labor. The US recently blacklisted those suppliers.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

China has sent US and other countries personal protective equipment (PPE) that was made through the labor of the persecuted Uighur Muslim minority, The New York Times reported.

The Times identified companies across China that use Uighur labor to make PPE that is then exported to other countries.

One example cited by The Times was a shipment of face masks sent to a medical-supply company in the state of Georgia from a Chinese factory where more than 100 Uighurs were sent to work.

Some of those companies are using a government-backed labor programme to send Uighurs to work in their factories, which experts say amounts to using them as forced labour.

Amy K. Lehr, the human rights director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Times: “The rural poor that are being put into factory work are not going by choice.”

“These are coercive quotas that cause people to be put into factory work when they don’t want to be — and that could be considered forced labor under international law.” Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited under international human rights law.

n95 mask

A medical worker holding a face mask.

Romeo Ranoco/Reuters


China bills the program as a chance for Uighurs to improve their lives.

A spokesman for China’s Embassy in the US told The Times that the program helps “local residents rise above poverty through employment and lead fulfilling lives.”

The Times — which examined photos, videos, government documents, satellite images, and shipping data — and found that the number of PPE companies in China’s Xinjiang region, the heartland of the Uighur people, had increased from four before the pandemic to 51.

And 17 of those take part in the government’s Uighur labor program, though much of what they make is consumed within China, rather than exported abroad.

It is part of China’s wider persecution of Uighurs. The country has detained at least one million Uighurs in dire detention camps in what it euphemistically calls “re-education camps,” and has put them under extreme surveillance measures.

Reports also say that ethinically Chinese men are sent to the homes of Uighur women whose husbands were sent to the prison camps, and that those men frequently sleep in the same beds as them. China is also reportedly ordering them to redecorate their homes to make them look more Chinese.

FILE - In this Dec. 22, 2019, file photo, a man holds a sign during a rally to show support for Uighurs and their fight for human rights in Hong Kong. People from western China who are targets of a Chinese government crackdown say they have been threatened and harassed in the United States. Those fleeing the crackdown on the predominantly Muslim Uighur ethnic group typically receive U.S. asylum. But Uighurs tell The Associated Press and human rights groups they still afraid amid threats aimed at them and their families back in China. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

A man holds a sign during a rally to show support for Uighurs in a protest in Hong Kong in December 2019.

Associated Press


Uighur labor has been connected to other products exported to the US.

The Associated Press reported in 2019 that a Chinese clothing factory used cheap or free labor from Uighurs, leading North Caroline sportswear company Badger Sport to cut ties with the factory.

A March report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute also said that Apple suppliers in China used the work of Uighurs that were forced to move and work in Chinese factories.

The US this month put 11 Chinese companies on a blacklist over their alleged ties to human rights abuses towards Uighurs. These included companies that supplied companies like Apple and Nike.

The Australian institute’s report also said that Uighur work was in the supply chain of companies like Nike, BMW, and Amazon.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers seized a shipment of human hair extensions earlier in July that are believed to have been manufactured in Xinjiang. 

Trump moved in June to punish Chinese officials for the country’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.

China’s ambassador was over the weekend confronted with footage purporting to show blindfolded Uighurs being led into trains in China. He said that it may show a normal prisoner “transfer.”

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