‘Definitely slander’: factory worker debunks report of ‘compelled’ labor from Xinjiang

Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/1 22:54:57

A worker manufactures socks at a textile company in Aksu, Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in November. Photo: Li Xuanmin/GT

A report in the Washington Post that described how Uygur people from Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region were compelled by local officials to work in a Nike factory in East China's Shandong Province was just a smear campaign against the company and was full of lies, a senior employee at the factory told the Global Times on Sunday.

"This type of report is definitely slander against us," said the employee of Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co, who only gave his surname Che, adding that the Uygur workers came to the factory in Shandong mainly because there were not many job opportunities in their hometowns.

He said there were no extra restrictions placed on them compared with other workers at the factory, which supplies the US sports apparel brand and others.

"Of course they can go anywhere they want," Che said, adding the company even offers bonuses and free transportation for all workers from out of town to go back to their hometowns during the Chinese New Year holidays. 

However, he said, just like the rest of the country amid the coronavirus epidemic, the company put in place some restrictions on workers going in and out of the factory in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Washington Post report published on Sunday described how Uygur workers were compelled by Xinjiang officials to work at the factory against their will, forced to stay and subject to "constant supervision." The report claims that the reporter - Anna Fifield, the newspaper's Beijing bureau chief - visited the factory, but it was unclear when she did it or whether it was in the past few weeks when restrictions on personnel movements were imposed across the country.   

The report also did not offer any details of how officials kept the Uygur workers from going back home. It cited a female worker as saying "We can walk around, but we can't go back [to Xinjiang] on our own," but she did not say why she couldn't. 

Still, the report described this as "new evidence" to show that Chinese officials were "moving" Uygurs into government-directed labor, to "further control the Uygur population and break familial bonds."

Che said that the 800 or so Uygur workers came to work in the factory through human resources agencies under the Xinjiang regional government. However, just like the 3,200-some other workers from different ethnic groups, the Uygur workers sign the same work contracts, which are usually valid for three years, but can leave anytime they want.

As the Washington Post report noted, the program is part of China's poverty-alleviation efforts. However, what the report failed to say is that such programs are carried out around the country and they are not exclusive to Xinjiang, which many foreign media outlets focus on.

Relevant officials in Xinjiang could not be reached for comment as of press time on Sunday.

The role of local officials in such programs is to find jobs across the country for those who cannot find work in their hometowns, arrange transportation and offer other logistical and even legal support in some cases, according to a local official in an impoverished county in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, who is in charge of such programs. 

"In our case, [local workers] usually come into our office and ask us to find a job for them, not the other way around," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Global Times on Sunday, noting that it was "hysterical that some would view such programs as a way of controlling people. So if we don't care and leave these people without jobs and stuck in poverty, would that be a good thing?"

The official said that most families in the rural areas depend on earnings from out-of-province jobs for everything from food to healthcare to the education of their children. That is the case not just for Sichuan or Xinjiang but the entire country. In 2018, China had about 288.36 million rural workers who travel around the country to work in factories like the one in Shandong, according to official data. That is more than the population of Indonesia, which is the fourth-largest in the world.

"Why do they only write about Xinjiang? They should also come and write about us too," the official from Sichuan said jokingly.

"We have been working nonstop. The epidemic has created a huge headache for us because we cannot arrange jobs for many of our residents, who are waiting to get back to work," he said.

Global Times

Posted in: SOCIETY

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