China Forcing Hundreds Of Thousands Of Minorities Into Hard Labour, BBC Confirms

by : Emily Brown on : 15 Dec 2020 10:55
China Forcing Hundreds Of Thousands Of Minorities Into Hard Labour, BBC ConfirmsChina Forcing Hundreds Of Thousands Of Minorities Into Hard Labour, BBC Confirms PA Images/BBC

New research cited by BBC News has confirmed China is forcing hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other minorities into hard labour.

The country has long been accused of holding millions of people from minority groups in a large network of detention camps and coercing them to work in textile factories. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied the claims, insisting the camps are ‘training schools’ and that the factory work is ‘voluntary’.


China has undergone efforts to relocate its rural poor community as part of a national anti-poverty campaign, claiming the move will improve employment prospects.

Protest for Uighur rightsProtest for Uighur rightsPA Images

New documents uncovered by Dr. Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, appear to reveal more about the allegations, suggesting that more than half a million minority workers a year are also being marshalled into seasonal cotton picking, with conditions indicating a high risk of coercion.

The documents include government policy papers and state news reports, and show that 210,000 workers were sent ‘via labour transfer’ to pick cotton for the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a Chinese paramilitary organisation, from the prefectures of Aksu and Hotan in 2018.


This year alone, Aksu reportedly claimed to need 142,700 workers for its fields; a demand which was largely met by ‘transferring all those who should be transferred’, the BBC reports.

Papers speak of minority groups being ‘mobilised’ and ‘organised’ for cotton picking in fields hundreds of kilometres away, while some make references to ‘guiding’ the workers to ‘consciously resist illegal religious activities’, suggesting the majority of those working on the fields are Uighurs and other traditionally Muslim groups.

Workers are mobilised to ‘enthusiastically sign up’ after government officials sign ‘contracts of intent’ with the farms to determine the number of workers needed, the location, accommodation and wages.


A notice issued by the Xinjiang regional government on the management of cotton pickers in 2016 reportedly instructed officials to ‘strengthen their ideological education and ethnic unity education’.

One report uncovered by Zenz suggests working in cotton fields presented an opportunity to transform the ‘deep-rooted, lazy thinking’ of rural villagers by showing them that ‘labour is glorious’, while another claims bringing up children is an ‘important cause of poverty’.

Cotton picking ChinaCotton picking ChinaPA Images

President Xi Jinping is aiming to eliminate absolute poverty in time for the Communist Party’s centenary next year, prompting an increase to relocate the rural poor. The push for mass employment and internment is apparent through the appearance of factories in close proximity to the detention camps.


The government is thought to believe that working will help transform the ‘outdated ideas’ of Xinjiang’s minorities and encourage them to become modern, wage-earning citizens.

Satellite images analysed by the BBC appeared to show masses of people, all seemingly wearing the same colour uniforms, walking in close formation from a camp to a factory. Propaganda slogans cover the sites, proclaiming the benefits of the anti-poverty campaign.

Minorities who haven’t been detained still appear to be subject to the campaign, with more than two million people mobilised for work, often after being put through ‘military-style’ job training. Evidence suggests they too have been used as a source of labour in factories and in textile mills.


The papers found by Zenz make reference to how the mobilised cotton pickers are subject to controls and surveillance.

A young Uighur who now lives in Europe, identified by the pseudonym Mahmut, said his sister was taken to a textile factory where she stayed for three months without getting any money. In winter, his mother picked cotton for ‘government officials’.

Mahmut said people go to the fields because ‘they’re afraid of being taken to jail or somewhere else’.

Cotton picking ChinaCotton picking ChinaPA Images

Documents claim that workers can earn up to 5000 RMB ($763, £570) per month, though one report appears to suggest that the average monthly salary for 132 pickers organised from one village was just 1,670 RMB ($255, £188) each.

China’s foreign ministry told the BBC, ‘Workers from all ethnic groups in Xinjiang choose their jobs according to their own free will and sign voluntary employment contracts in accordance with the law.’

It said Xinjiang’s poverty rate has fallen from almost 20% in 2014 to a little more than 1% today, but dismissed accusations of forced labour as ‘completely fabriacted’, adding, ‘The smiling faces of all of Xinjiang’s ethnic groups are the most powerful response to America’s lies and rumours.’

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: News, China, labour, Now


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