China on Friday dismissed US claims of forced labour involving ethnic Uighurs as “hypocrisy” after Washington warned companies to avoid supply chains linked to human rights abuses in western Xinjiang region.
The US State Department, along with three other US government bodies, on Wednesday issued a business advisory warning companies to steer clear of entities linked to human rights abuses in Xinjiang such as forced labour and mass surveillance.
The advisory came one day before US customs officials revealed that they had seized 13 tons of human hair products exported from Xinjiang, which are believed to have been taken from Uighurs detained in the region.
“The so-called forced labour issue is completely fabricated by certain people and organisations in the US and the West,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a routine briefing.
“Some American individuals on one hand claim to care about Xinjiang ethnic minorities, but on the other hand also take measures to suppress Xinjiang companies. This fully shows their ugly hypocrisy, of wanting to curb Xinjiang’s development and provoking (tension) in Chinese ethnic relations.”
Rights groups say at least one million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region have been incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang.
Uighur activists say China is conducting a massive brainwashing campaign aimed at eradicating their distinct culture and Islamic identity.
China describes the camps as vocational training sites intended to offer an alternative to Islamic extremism.
According to a March report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank, at least 83 global brands, including Nike and Apple, are benefiting from Uighur forced labour in the manufacture of their products.
The report also estimated that between 2017 and 2019, over 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to factories across China with limited freedom of movement.
Zhao claimed that ethnic minorities in Xinjiang had the freedom to choose their jobs, and that their labour rights were guaranteed by the Xinjiang government.
Since 2018, 151,000 surplus labourers have been moved out of poverty-stricken families in southern Xinjiang to work in factories, he added.
Last December, regional authorities in Xinjiang said that all detainees had “graduated” from the facilities, but this statistic is difficult to verify due to the strict information lockdown in the area.