China’s Continued Abuse of Uyghur Citizens

Brianna Pachuilo. Brianna is a JD Candidate (2022) at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. She is an IRLS fellow during the 2019-2020 academic year with an interest in international human rights law.

How has China oppressed its Uyghur citizens?

Since 2017, reports have emerged detailing China’s detention of Uyghur people, a Muslim minority group native to the Xinjiang region. Officials claim that the detentions target “radical” Muslims who are a threat to society. However, detentions have largely been based upon arbitrary factors including obtaining a passport, having multiple children, or wearing a long beard. China has detained up to two million of its citizens in detention facilities without trials or due process of law.

Inside these facilities, Uyghurs are neither permitted to contact their families nor told when they can return home. Daily life is plagued by constant surveillance and absolute control. The “curriculum” in these “re-education” facilities is mostly comprised of indoctrination classes intended to replace their cultural identity with loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. While the Chinese government has insisted that human rights are being respected in these facilities, the few survivors who have spoken out about their experiences recount regular beatings and inhumane conditions.

What is happening now?

Following criticism from twenty-three countries in the UN General Assembly, China announced in December 2019 that all of the detainees had “graduated” from the detention centers. Instead of being reunited with their families and allowed to live in peace, however, their abuse at the hands of the Chinese government has morphed into a new form. Many detainees have been relocated to labor factories or disappeared into the prison system. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a Canberra-based think tank affiliated with the Australian government, conducted an investigation into the factories in which Uyghur detainees have been placed. ASPI found evidence of forced labor conditions and discovered that these factories are part of the supply chains for many popular global brands.

In these factories, laborers live apart from their families and are not permitted to return home on holidays. There is constant surveillance in production areas and living quarters. Some factories closely resemble prisons in that they have watch towers, barbed wire fences, and police guard boxes. After working all day, laborers are required to attend evening Mandarin and ideological instruction classes. While less overtly sinister than the “re-education facilities,” the everyday reality of oppression, uncertainty, and isolation in these factories is eerily similar.

What role can I play?

By making simple changes to your daily life, you can help curb demand for forced labor and help ensure that you are not personally benefitting from the practice. Companies make decisions based on the products we as consumers do or do not to buy. We can influence these decisions by predominately buying fair trade goods. I believe the best approach for transition to fair trade shopping is to start small. Each month, pick one new product that you can commit to purchasing ethically; maybe that is your coffee, tea, chocolate, jeans, or jewelry. It may not be possible to buy every product fair trade, especially technology products. However, fair trade practices are becoming more common in multiple industries, including clothing and food, creating a plethora of great quality products to choose from.

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