My last post from February 11th on forced labor and U.S. law to stop imports from such labor did not include reference to a report released by the International Labor Organization on February 10, 2022 and the U.S. Department of State media note on the note. See February 11, 2022: Stopping imports made in whole or in part from forced labor — U.S. law and the looming challenge on goods made from cotton and polysilicon, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/11/stopping-imports-made-in-whole-or-in-part-from-forced- labor-u-s-law-and-the-looming-challenge-on-goods-made-from-cotton-and-polysilicon/
The ILO press release on the report can be found here. ILO releases the 2022 report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, Press release, 10 February 2022, https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_836668/lang–en/index.htm
The State Department media note can be found here (U.S. Department of State, media note, On the Release of the International Labor Organization’s Committee of Experts Report, February 10, 2022, https://www.state.gov/on-the-release-of-the-international-labor-organizations-committee-of-experts-report/) and is copied below.
“The Department of State welcomes the issuance today of a report by a committee of the International Labor Organization (ILO) calling on the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to review, repeal, and revise its laws and practices of employment discrimination against racial and religious minorities in Xinjiang.
“This report, produced by the ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, expresses deep concern regarding the PRC’s policies and calls on the PRC government to take specific steps toward eliminating racial and religious discrimination in employment and
occupation, and to amend national and regional policies utilizing vocational training and rehabilitation centers for ‘political re-education’ based on administrative detention.
“China joined the ILO in 1919 as one of the founding member states. The United States calls on the PRC to take the steps requested by the Committee of Experts. We also reiterate our call for the PRC to end its genocide and crimes against humanity perpetrated against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, as well as its use of these groups for forced labor in Xinjiang and beyond. The State Department is committed to working with our international partners and allies to end forced labor and strengthen international action against the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.
“The Committee’s report can be found here – https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/— relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_836653.pdf .
“For more information on forced labor in the PRC’s Xinjiang Region, please see the linked July 2021 Fact Sheet on the topic: https://www.state.gov/forced-labor-in-chinas-xinjiang-region/“.
The full title of the ILO report is International Labour Organization, Application of International
Labour Standards 2022, Report III (Part A), Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, International Labour Conference, 110th Session, 2022, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/— relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_836653.pdf. The volume is 870 pages in length and reviews compliance with various standards by individual countries. There are discussions on China at pages 431-433 (Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) (ratification: 1999)); 433-434 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) (ratification: 2002)); 514-521 (Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111)(ratification: 2006)); and 683-689 (Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No. 122) (ratification: 1997). It is the latter two sections that talk at length about claims made by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) on practices against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang Autonomous Region, the government of China’s response to the claims, and the concerns of the Committee of Experts with requested actions. For example, looking just at the last section, pages 683-685 outlines the claims by the ITUC on employment practices.
“In its observations of 2020 and 2021, the ITUC alleges that the Government of China has been engaging in a widespread and systematic programme involving the extensive use of forced labour of the Uyghur and other Turkic and/or Muslim minorities for agriculture and industrial activities throughout the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang), in violation of the right to freely chosen employment set out in Article 1(2) of the Convention. The ITUC maintains that some 13 million members of the ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang are targeted on the basis of their ethnicity and religion 684 Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations Employment policy and promotion with a goal of social control and assimilation of their culture and identity. According to the ITUC, the Government refers to the programme in a context of ‘poverty alleviation’, ‘vocational training’, ‘reeducation through labour’ and ‘de- extremification’.
“The ITUC submits that a key feature of the programme is the use of forced or compulsory labour in or around ‘internment’ or ‘re-education’ camps housing some 1.8 million Uyghur and other Turkic and/or Muslim peoples in the region, as well as in or around prisons and workplaces across Xinjiang and other parts of the country.
“The ITUC indicates that, beginning in 2017, the Government has expanded its internment programme significantly, with some 39 internment camps having almost tripled in size. The ITUC submits that, in 2018, Government officials began referring to the camps as ‘vocational education and training centres’ and that in March 2019, the Governor of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region described them as ‘boarding schools that provide job skills to trainees who are voluntarily admitted and allowed to leave the camps’. The ITUC indicates that life in ‘re-education centres’ or camps is characterized by extraordinary hardship, lack of freedom of movement, physical and psychological torture, compulsory vocational training and actual forced labour.
“The ITUC also refers to ‘centralized training centres’ that are no re-education camps but have
similar security features (e.g. high fences, security watchtowers and barbed wire) and provide similar education programmes (legal regulations, Mandarin language courses, work discipline and military drills). The ITUC adds that the re-education camps are central to an indoctrination programme focused on separating and ‘cleansing’ ethnic and religious minorities from their culture, beliefs, and religion. Reasons for internment may include persons having travelled abroad, applied for a passport, communicated with people abroad or prayed regularly.
“The ITUC also alleges prison labour, mainly in cotton harvesting and the manufacture of textiles, apparel and footwear. It refers to research according to which, starting in 2017, the prison population of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities increased dramatically, accounting for 21 per cent of all arrests in China in 2017. Charges typically included ‘terrorism’, ‘separatism’ and ‘religious extremism’.
“Finally, the ITUC alleges that at least 80,000 Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities workers were transferred from Xinjiang to factories in Eastern and Central China as part of a ‘labour transfer’ scheme
under the name ‘Xinjiang Aid’. This scheme would allow companies to: (1) open a satellite factory in Xinjiang or (2) hire Uyghur workers for their factories located outside this region. The ITUC alleges that
the workers who are forced to leave the Uyghur Region are given no choice and, if they refuse, are threatened with detention or the detention of their family. Outside Xinjiang, these workers live and work in segregation, are required to attend Mandarin classes and are prevented from practicing their culture or religion. According to the ITUC, state security officials ensure continuous physical and virtual surveillance. Workers lack of freedom of movement, remaining confined to dormitories and required to use supervised transport to and from the factory. They are subject to impossible production expectations and long working hours. The ITUC adds that, where wages are paid, they are often subject to deductions that reduce the salary to almost nothing. ITUC further adds that, without these coercively arranged transfers, Uyghurs would not find jobs outside Xinjiang, as their physical appearance would trigger police investigations.
“According to the ITUC’s allegations, to facilitate the implementation of these schemes, the Government offers incentives and tax exemptions to enterprises that train and employ detainees; subsidies are granted to encourage Chinese-owned companies to invest in and build factories near or within the internment camps; and compensation is provided to companies that facilitate the transfer and employment of Uyghur workers outside the Uyghur Region.
“In its 2021 observations, the ITUC supplements these observations with information, including testimonies from the Xinjiang Victims Database, a publicly accessible database which as of 3 September
2021 had allegedly recorded the experience of some 35,236 ethnic minority members forcibly interned
by the Government since 2017.”
The Government of China provides its views that the claims are false in each case and provides a review of what its actions are intended to accomplish (pages 685-687). However, the Committee of Experts expresses major concerns and seeks additional action/information from China (687-689 copied below).
“The Committee takes due note of the ITUC allegations, the response and additional information provided by the Government and the various employment and vocational training policies as articulated
in various recent ‘white papers’ referred to by the Government in its report and other legal and policy documents referred to by United Nations human rights experts.
“The Committee recalls that the Convention’s objective of promoting full employment does not require ratifying States to guarantee work for all who are available for and seeking work, nor does it imply that everyone must be in employment at all times (2020 General Survey on promoting employment and decent work in a changing landscape, paragraph 54). The Convention does, however, require ratifying States to promote freedom to choose one’s employment and occupation, as well as equal access to opportunities for training and general education to prepare for jobs, without discrimination on the basis of race, colour, national origin, religion or other grounds of discrimination covered under Convention No. 111 or other international labour standards such as the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Convention, (No. 159).
“In this context, the Committee notes that training facilities that house the Uyghur population and other Turkic and Muslim minorities separate them from the mainstream educational and vocational training, vocational guidance and placement services available to all other groups in the region throughout the country at large. Such separation may lead to active labour market policies in China being designed and implemented in a manner that generates coercion in the choice of employment and has a discriminatory effect on ethnic and religious minorities. Photographs of the facilities, equipped with guard towers and tall surrounding walls topped with barbed wire further reinforce the observation of segregation. The Committee has observed before that some workers from ethnic minorities face challenges in seeking to engage in the occupation of their choice because of indirect discrimination. For example, biased approaches towards the traditional occupations engaged in by certain ethnic groups, which are often perceived as outdated, unproductive or environmentally harmful, continue to pose serious challenges to the enjoyment of equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of occupation (general observation on Convention No. 111, 2019). The Committee addresses other aspects of the particular system for vocational training and education aimed at the deradicalization of ethnic and religious minorities in its comment on the application of the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111).
“The Committee recalls that, while the Convention requires ratifying States to declare and pursue as a major goal an active policy designed to promote full, productive and freely chosen employment with the objective of stimulating economic growth and development and meeting manpower requirements, employment policy must also promote free choice of employment by enabling each worker to train for employment which can subsequently be freely chosen, in accordance with Article 1(2)(c) of the Convention.
“Article 1(2)(c) provides that the national employment policy shall aim to ensure that ‘there is freedom of choice of employment and the fullest possible opportunity for each worker to qualify for, and to use his skills and endowments in, a job for which he or she is well suited, irrespective of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin’. In its 2020 General Survey on promoting employment and decent work in a changing landscape, paragraphs 68–69, the Committee noted that ‘the objective of freely chosen employment consists of two elements. First, no person shall be compelled or forced to undertake work that has not been freely chosen or accepted or prevented from leaving work if he or she so wishes’. Second, all persons should have the opportunity to acquire qualifications and to use their skills and endowments free from any discrimination. Moreover, the Committee recalls that the prevention and prohibition of compulsory labour is a condition sine qua non of freedom of choice of employment (2020 General Survey, paragraph 70).
“The Committee notes the Government’s statement that the ITUC observations are based on individual statements and are unsubstantiated; however, it notes that the ITUC observations also append additional sources containing statistical data; references to first-hand testimonies, testimonies of eyewitnesses, family and relatives; research papers; and photographs of vocational training and education centres.
“The Committee also notes that, on 29 March 2021, a number of United Nations human rights experts (including Special Rapporteurs and thematic working groups mandated by the UN Human Rights Council) expressed serious concern with regard to the alleged detention and forced labour of Uyghur and other Turkic and/or Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. The UN experts indicate that Uyghur workers have been held in ‘re- education’ facilities, with many also forcibly transferred to work in factories in Xinjiang. They further indicate that Uyghur workers have allegedly been forcibly employed in low-skilled, labour-intensive industries, such as agribusiness, textile and garment, automotive and technological sectors.
“The Committee recognizes and welcomes the strong commitment of the Government to the eradication of poverty. However, it is the Committee’s firm view that poverty eradication and the realization of the right to work to that end encompasses not only job placement and job retention but also the conditions under which the Government executes such placement and retention. The Convention does not only require the Government to pursue full employment but also to ensure that its employment policies do not entail any direct or indirect discriminatory effect in relation to recruitment, conditions of work, opportunities for training and advancement, termination, or any other employment-related conditions, including discrimination in choice of occupation.
“The Committee is of the view that at the heart of the sustainable reduction of poverty lies the active enhancement of individual and collective capabilities, autonomy and agency that find their expression in the full recognition of the identity of ethnic minorities and their capability to freely and without any threat or fear choose rural or urban livelihoods and employment. The obligation under the Convention is not to guarantee job placement and retention for all individuals by any means available but to create the framework conditions for decent job creation and sustainable enterprises.
“The Committee takes due note of the view expressed in the Government’s report that ‘some forces recklessly sensationalize the so-called ‘forced labour’ issue in Xinjiang on various occasions’, adding that this is ‘nothing but a downright lie, a dirty trick with ulterior motives’. The Committee is bound to observe, however, that the employment situation of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China provides numerous indications of coercive measures many of which arise from regulatory and policy documents.
The Government’s references to significant numbers of ‘surplus rural labour’ being ‘relocated’ to industrial and agricultural employment sites located inside and outside Xinjiang under ‘structured Employment policy and promotion conditions’ of ‘labour management’ in combination with a vocational training policy targeting deradicalization of ethnic and religious minorities and at least in part carried out in high-security and high- surveillance settings raise serious concerns as to the ability of ethnic and religious minorities to exercise freely chosen employment without discrimination. Various indicators suggest the presence of a ‘labour transfer policy’ using measures severely restricting the free choice of employment. These include government-led mobilization of rural households with local townships organizing transfers in accordance with labour export quotas; the relocation or transfer of workers under security escort; onsite management and retention of workers under strict surveillance; the threat of internment in vocational education and training centres if workers do not accept ‘government administration’; and
the inability of placed workers to freely change employers.
“The Committee urges the Government to provide detailed updated information on the measures taken or envisaged to ensure that its national employment policy effectively promotes both productive and freely chosen employment, including free choice of occupation, and effectively prevents all forms of forced or compulsory labour. In addition, the Committee requests the Government to take immediate measures to ensure that the vocational training and education programmes that form part of its poverty alleviation activities focused in the Uyghur Autonomous Region are mainstreamed and delivered in publicly accessible institutions, so that all segments of the population may benefit from these services on an equal basis, with a view to enhancing their access to full, productive and freely chosen employment and decent work. Recalling that, under the Employment Promotion Law (2007) and the Vocational Education law (1996), workers have ‘the right to equal employment and to choose a job of their own initiative’ and to access vocational education and training, respectively, the Committee asks the Government to provide detailed information on the manner in which this right is effectively ensured, particularly for those belonging to the Uyghur minority and other Turkic and/or Muslim minorities. The Government is also requested to provide detailed information, including disaggregated statistical data, on the nature of the different vocational education and training courses offered, the types of courses in which Uyghur minorities have participated, and the numbers of participants in each course, as well as the impact of the education and training on their access to freely chosen and sustainable employment.
“Article 3 of the Convention. Consultation. The Committee requests the Government to indicate the manner in which representatives of workers and employers organizations were consulted with respect to the design, development, implementation, monitoring and review of the active labour market measures being taken in the Uyghur Autonomous Region. In addition, and given the focus of the active labour market measures on the Uyghur and other Turkic/Muslim minorities, the Committee requests the Government to indicate the manner in which the representatives of these groups have been consulted, as required under Article 3.
“The Committee is raising other matters in a request addressed directly to the Government.”
The ILO Report references a report from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. See United Nations, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Concluding observations on the combined fourteenth to seventeenth periodic reports of China (including Hong Kong, China and Macao, China), CERD/C/CHN/CO/14- 17, 19 September 2018, pages 7-8 (paras.40-42, copied below), https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CERD/C/CHN/CO/14- 17&Lang=En.
“Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
“40. The Committee notes the statements delivered by the State party delegation concerning the non- discriminatory enjoyment of freedoms and rights in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The Committee is, however, alarmed by:
“(a) Numerous reports of the detention of large numbers of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, held incommunicado and often for long periods, without being charged or tried, under the pretext of countering religious extremism. The Committee regrets the lack of official data on how many people are in long-term detention or who have been forced to spend varying periods in political “re-education camps” for even non- threatening expressions of Muslim ethno-religious culture, such as a daily greeting. Estimates of the number of people detained range from tens of thousands to over a million. The Committee also notes that the delegation stated that vocational training centres exist for people who have committed minor offences without qualifying what that means;
“(b) Reports of mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uighurs, such as frequent baseless police stops and the scanning of mobile phones at police checkpoint stations; additional reports have been received of the mandatory collection of extensive biometric data in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, including DNA samples and iris scans, of large groups of Uighur residents;
“(c) Reports that all residents of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region are required to hand over their travel documents to police and apply for permission to leave the country, and that permission may not come for years. This restriction particularly affects those who wish to travel for religious purposes;
“(d) Reports that many Uighurs who had left China have allegedly been returned to the country against their will. There are fears for the current safety of those returned to China against their will.
“While acknowledging the State party’s denials, the Committee takes note of reports that Uighur language education has been banned in schools in the Hotan (Hetian) prefecture in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (arts. 2 and 5).
“42. The Committee recommends that the State party:
“(a) Halt the practice of detaining individuals who have not been lawfully charged, tried and convicted for a criminal offence in any extralegal detention facility;
“(b) Immediately release individuals currently detained under these circumstances, and allow those wrongfully held to seek redress;
“(c) Undertake prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into all allegations of racial, ethnic and ethno-religious profiling, holding those responsible accountable and providing effective remedies, including compensation and guarantees of non-repetition;
“(d) Implement mandatory collection and analysis of data on the ethnicity of all individuals stopped by law enforcement, the reasons for and outcome of those stops, report publicly on the information collected at regular intervals and include it in its follow-up report;
“(e) Ensure that all collection, retention and use of biometric data is regulated in law and in practice, is narrow in scope, transparent, necessary and proportionate to meeting a legitimate security goal, and is not based on any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin;
“(f) Eliminate travel restrictions that disproportionately affect members of ethnic minorities;
“(g) Disclose the current location and status of Uighur students, refugees and asylum seekers who
returned to China pursuant to a demand made by the State party in the past five years;
“(h) Provide the number of persons held against their will in all extralegal detention facilities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in the past five years, together with the duration of their detention, the grounds for detention, the humanitarian conditions in the centres, the content of any training or political curriculum and activities, the rights that detainees have to challenge the illegality of their detention or appeal the detention, and any measures taken to ensure that their families are promptly notified of their detention.”
As China seems intent on pursuing its policies described above and in the other sections of the ILO Report against the Uyghurs and other minorities, there will remain increased global tensions including trade actions to address what others view as unacceptable actions towards the minorities.
Terence Stewart, former Managing Partner, Law Offices of Stewart and Stewart, and author of the blog, Current Thoughts on Trade.
To read the full commentary from Current Thoughts on Trade, please click here.