[Marxism] Inside China’s Push to Turn Muslim Minorities Into an Army of Workers

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 31 09:08:45 MST 2019

NY Times, Dec. 31, 2019
Inside China’s Push to Turn Muslim Minorities Into an Army of Workers
By Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy

KASHGAR, China — The order from Chinese officials was blunt and urgent. 
Villagers from Muslim minorities should be pushed into jobs, willing or 
not. Quotas would be set and families penalized if they refused to go along.

“Make people who are hard to employ renounce their selfish ideas,” the 
labor bureau of Qapqal, a county in the western region of Xinjiang, said 
in the directive last year.

Such orders are part of an aggressive campaign to remold Xinjiang’s 
Muslim minorities — mostly Uighurs and Kazakhs — into an army of workers 
for factories and other big employers. Under pressure from the 
authorities, poor farmers, small traders and idle villagers of working 
age attend training and indoctrination courses for weeks or months, and 
are then assigned to stitch clothes, make shoes, sweep streets or fill 
other jobs.

These labor programs represent an expanding front in a major effort by 
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to entrench control over this region, where 
these minorities make up about half the population. They are crucial to 
the government’s strategy of social re-engineering alongside the 
indoctrination camps, which have held one million or more Uighurs and 

The labor bureau of Qapqal ordered that villagers should undergo 
military-style training to convert them into obedient workers, loyal to 
employers and the ruling Communist Party. “Turn around their ingrained 
lazy, lax, slow, sloppy, freewheeling, individualistic ways so they obey 
company rules,” the directive said.

The government maintains that the Uighur and Kazakh villagers are “rural 
surplus labor” and are an underemployed population that threatens social 
stability. Putting them in steady, supervised government-approved work, 
officials say, will erase poverty and slow the spread of religious 
extremism and ethnic violence.

The government describes the laborers as volunteers, though critics say 
they are clearly coerced. Official documents, interviews with experts, 
and visits by The New York Times to Xinjiang indicate that local plans 
uproot villagers, restrict their movements and pressure them to stay at 

Experts say those harsh methods can amount to forced labor, potentially 
tainting the global supply chain that uses Xinjiang workers, 
particularly for cotton goods. The Japanese retailers Muji and Uniqlo 
say they have used cotton from the region, while Walmart has bought 
goods from a company that until recently used workers from Xinjiang.

Given the tight control on Xinjiang, “we have to assume for the moment 
that there’s a very significant risk of coercion,” said Amy K. Lehr, 
director of the human rights initiative at the Center for Strategic and 
International Studies and the co-author of a study on Xinjiang’s labor 

Forced labor could arise “even if the coercion was implicit or the 
programs offered workers a decent income,” she added.

The labor programs operate in parallel with the indoctrination camps in 
Xinjiang, that have drawn condemnation from Western governments. Camp 
inmates also receive job training, and officials say that many will be 
sent to work in factories.

Taken collectively, the policies are designed to make the region’s 
Muslim minorities more secular and urbanized like China’s Han majority. 
Many Chinese people see that as laudable. Uighur critics see it as 
ethnic subjugation.

“What they are trying to do is assimilate the Uighur people,” said 
Mustafa Aksu, a program coordinator at the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

Jinfujie, which calls itself Golden Future in English, trained and 
employed 2,300 workers from villages. It also opened a branch factory in 
an indoctrination camp, where it would put to work more than 500 
inmates, a company executive told officials last year.

The executive, Sun Yijie, a former soldier, said the company ran a tight 
ship to turn villagers into workers. “Beginning with military drills 
before they start their jobs, we foster a sense of discipline,” he said.

Video footage posted online shows Jinfujie workers in gray-and-orange 
uniforms lined up for a pep rally. “A successful future,” they shouted 
in unison.

The company has said it won an order from Germany to make hundreds of 
thousands of ski pants. Jinfujie would not answer questions about the 
claimed order. During a recent visit, Times reporters were barred by 
guards from visiting the Jinfujie factory or the surrounding industrial 

Dozens of factory zones have emerged across Xinjiang, attesting to the 
government’s ambitions to remake the region. Mr. Xi, China’s leader, has 
vowed to end poverty nationwide by late 2020, and Xinjiang officials 
face intense pressure to create jobs.

“The offensive to eradicate poverty has reached the crucial stage in a 
decisive battle,” Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party secretary of 
Xinjiang, said early this month on a tour of southern Xinjiang. 
“Transmit the pressure down, level by level.”

The labor programs depend on luring companies from China’s wealthier 
eastern seaboard, where fewer young people want to work on production 
lines. Xinjiang has offered manufacturers inexpensive labor, as well as 
generous tax breaks and subsidies.

“They’re still not as fast as workers from other parts of China,” said 
He Tan, a businessman who owns a small factory on the outskirts of 
Hotan, a city in Xinjiang.

The government’s goals are sweeping. One plan issued in 2018 called for 
putting to work 100,000 people from the poorest parts of southern 
Xinjiang, a heavily Uighur area, by the end of 2020. The government 
recently said that target was met a year ahead of schedule.  By late 
2023, another plan says, Xinjiang wants one million working in its 
textile and garment industries, up from about 100,000 in 2017.

At Mr. He’s factory, dozens of Uighur women from nearby villages sat 
wordlessly in rows sewing school uniforms. Guzalnur Mamatjan, a 
20-year-old Uighur, said she made about $200 a month.

“I’d like to work here for two or three years and then open my own 
clothes shop,” she said in a brief interview in the presence of officials.

‘A great deal of pressure’

Jutting out against desert dunes, the new industrial zones in Xinjiang 
are often surrounded by high walls, barbed wire and security cameras. 
Some are built near indoctrination camps and employ former inmates.

Xinjiang’s drive to put minorities in jobs often feels less like a jobs 
fair and more like a military call-up.

Trainee laborers often first attend political courses similar to those 
used in the indoctrination camps. They practice military drills, learn 
patriotic Chinese songs, and listen to lectures warning against Islamic 
zeal and preaching gratitude to the Communist Party. New laborers are 
sometimes shown in Chinese media reports wearing military-type uniforms 
and standing to attention as they are escorted to their employers.

Many are separated from their families. A directive from the Qapqal 
government ordered children of working couples to be put in care — home 
villages for the young, boarding schools for older ones — so their 
parents could move for work.

Workers’ movements are highly controlled if they are far from home. In 
Yanqi County in the region’s north, workers sent from the south are not 
allowed to quit unless they get written permission from several 
officials, according to rules by the local government.

Labor recruits undergo “political vetting” to determine if they are a 
security risk. In Qapqal County, officials imposed rules to grade 
potential recruits from most to least trustworthy. The least trustworthy 
had to attend indoctrination classes in the evenings, while only the 
most trusted could leave the county for work.

“There is a great deal of pressure placed on individuals to sign work 
contracts,” said Darren Byler, an expert on Xinjiang at the University 
of Colorado Boulder.

Mr. Byler said many residents believed that resisting work transfers 
could prompt detention. “The threat of the camps hangs over everyone’s 
heads, so there is really no resistance to assigned factory work,” he said.

Chinese official media reports that workers make $400 and up a month, a 
decent income. The reality may differ, especially in smaller, struggling 
factories. In a township in southern Xinjiang, two thirds of 43 factory 
employees whose wages were included in online records earned $114 a 
month, according to Adrian Zenz, an expert on Xinjiang who has studied 
the labor programs.

Amanzhol Qisa, a 31-year-old Xinjiang resident, spent a year in an 
indoctrination camp and in April was sent to work at a clothing factory 
for three months. She was paid $115 a month, less than half the minimum 
wage, according to her husband, Muhamet Qyzyrbek.

Mr. Qyzyrbek, a Kazakh citizen, said by phone from Shymkent, a city in 
southern Kazakhstan, that his wife had no choice but to take the job. 
“After being released, you need to work according to their policies,” he 

Ethical risks

Starting in late summer, villagers in Xinjiang file onto buses taking 
them to cotton farms, sometimes hundreds of miles away. For a few 
intense weeks under the sun, they hunch over in fields, picking the crop 
that ends up in Chinese clothing factories.

Teams of Communist Party officials in villages hold “mobilization 
meetings,” pressing farmers to sign up. The pay is good, they say.

“Head out boldly and bring back the cash,” a village official in Dol 
Township in southern Xinjiang told dozens of farmers, according a local 
government report last year. The village officials urged team leaders to 
take special care of three villagers in their 60s who had signed up to 
pick cotton, the report said.

Xinjiang grows 85 percent of China’s cotton, by official estimates, and 
is pushing to make more textiles and garments. And nearly every link in 
the supply chain intersects with the government’s labor programs.

Large Chinese textile makers, such as Huafu Fashion Company, based in 
eastern China, have promoted their role in employing minorities from the 
countryside, while denying that any were forced to take the work.

Some global companies have advertised high-quality Xinjiang cotton as a 
selling point. The Japanese retailer Muji describes that its flannel 
uses “hand harvested” cotton from the region.

The international concern over human rights in Xinjiang is putting 
pressure on global retailers to vet their suppliers. The United States 
recently banned clothing from Hetian Taida, a company in Xinjiang 
suspected of using workers from an indoctrination camp.

The parent company of the Japanese retailer Uniqlo said the brand 
stopped working with production partners in Xinjiang. Muji of Japan did 
not respond to emails requesting comment. In August, its parent company, 
Ryohin Keikaku, said it was committed to banning forced labor, including 
among its business partners.

Until recently, Qapqal County had sent a total of over 440 workers to 
east China to work for a factory that makes inflatable paddle pools and 
beds for export to the United States and other countries. The factory is 
owned by the Bestway Leisure Products Company, which has sold such 
products to Walmart, Kmart and other retailers, according to export records.

Pat Fumagalli, a chief strategic officer for Bestway who is based in the 
United States, said the company ended the program to take workers from 
Xinjiang in October, after managers in the United States noted reports 
about the region’s labor programs.

Marilee McInnis, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said in email: “Responsible 
recruitment and voluntary labor are two very important issues for Walmart.”

Transform Holdco, the parent company of Kmart, declined to comment.

After The Times made inquiries, inspectors acting for Walmart visited 
the factory. The inspectors from the ICTI Ethical Toy Program examined 
records and spoke to managers. They found no disparity between the pay 
and conditions of workers from Xinjiang and other places, said Mark 
Robertson, a senior vice president for the inspection program.

“We did not have the opportunity to interview workers from Xinjiang as 
none were working at the factory when we conducted our visit,” he said.

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