Addressing Forced Labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region



Amy Lehr | Center For Strategic & International Studies

The forced labor of ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), as part of a broader pattern of severe human rights abuses, is a significant and growing concern that demands the attention of governments and private-sector actors across the world. Products entering the United States, Europe, and other democracies are at risk of being affected by these forced labor practices, which often occur several steps away from global brands in supply chains. Companies cannot currently easily ensure that their products are not affected by XUAR-linked forced labor because brands often cannot trace their products to origin, and the XUAR’s important role in a number of sectors may require significant changes in sourcing practices. Moreover, global brands seeking to exert leverage on their Chinese suppliers with regard to XUAR sourcing are reportedly seen to intervene with internal political affairs. This brief explores what the XUAR produces, the sectors that are implicated, the resulting sourcing challenges, and the opportunities for collective action to be explored in further research.


This brief is the first in a series that CSIS’s Human Rights Initiative (HRI) will produce to identify how businesses, governments, multilateral organizations, NGOs, and other actors can work together to address XUAR-linked forced labor. This brief enhances understanding of relevant supply chains and includes a deeper dive into forced labor risk in cotton production and supply chains in the XUAR. HRI’s work has focused less on labor transfers from the XUAR into the rest of China to avoid replicating the ongoing work of others.

The brief does not provide recommendations but rather a starting point for a common understanding of relevant supply chains and labor risks, helping to ground further research and policy solutions. The brief starts with an overview of the current policy environment in China and the XUAR as it pertains to forced labor practices and the products that the XUAR is producing and exporting. Some of the statistics used are drawn from Chinese government sources, which are not necessarily reliable but are often the only available data. The brief then looks more deeply at how the XUAR’s forced labor practices are linked to the textile, apparel, and footwear industries. The third and last section discusses areas that merit more exploration because of their ability, in combination, to provide a path forward to address XUAR-linked forced labor.


Amy K. Lehr is a Director and Senior Fellow at the Human Rights Initiative.

To download the full policy brief, please click here.

CSIS BRIEFS are produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s). © 2020 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.