Stories of Uyghur Forced Labour
Numerous reports have highlighted the scale and forms of state-imposed forced labour in the Uyghur Region. Behind every report, there are individuals with families and friends, and communities being exploited and forced to work against their will. Learn about the experiences of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz who have been directly impacted by state-imposed forced labour in the Uyghur Region.
Aldiyar (pseudonym) is a former detainee who was forced to work in a factory making clothes, gloves, and bags for low pay. “We went to a garment factory. We didn’t have a choice but to go there… The salary was low. It was impossible to take care of my family with the salary. The first month [we were paid] 200 RMB [23.57 GBP]…The factory was on the outskirts of the [redacted] county seat. Only ethnic minorities were working in the factory – Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Hui.”
Maynur was forcibly transferred from her home in Ketiki Village, Keriye, Khotan in the Uyghur Region with only a junior-high-level education under the state “surplus labour” program in 2017, according to Chinese state media. Although Maynur and her parents resisted the work placement, she was forced to travel over 1,500 kilometres away from her home to work in the production workshop at the Zhongtai factory in Urumchi. Maynur is shown weighing products in this photo from China News.
Over 5,500 individuals from the southern Uyghur Region were transferred to work at Zhongtai facilities in Urumchi, Turpan, Aksu, and Fukang between Spring 2017 and June 2021.
Nursiman Abdureshid, a 33-year-old Uyghur woman, has testified that she witnessed nearly 100 Uyghur girls as young as 17 years old being forced to work at a textile factory in Jiangxi province in 2008. “I saw nearly 100 girls living in very old dormitories in the factory. And they said they do not want to work here. Most of the time they work in night shifts and sometimes they get so sleepy, and this causes their fingers to get injured by the machine so badly.” Abdureshid stated the girls were paid 25-35 RMB (2.95-4.12 GBP) per day and incurred debt to pay the factory for board and lodging. “In short, I witnessed the forced Uyghur workers’ unwillingness, and forced labour barely with no salary. Everyone felt like they were forced, and they were unwilling to work.They told me I don’t want to work, and some girls said they had to ask parents to send money so they could pay the factory. Some girls escaped and when they got to the train station the police brought them back.”
Hasan Imin is one of 560+ Uyghurs who were transferred from the southern Uyghur Region to work at Zhongtai factories in Urumchi in 2017. A Zhongtai publicity piece notes that Hasan repeatedly expressed wanting to return home, stating that his “most common words” when he first started at Zhongtai were “I want to go home” and “I really can’t learn.” The article reports Hasan continued repairing forklifts at a PVC workshop and was not allowed to return home. Hasan is pictured inspecting forklifts in this photo.
Zhongtai is a state owned company that produces the majority of PVC made in the Uyghur Region which accounts for 10% of the world’s PVC supply as of 2022. Its factory in Urumchi alone produces 700,000 tons of PVC each year.
In 2021, Erbakit Otarbay, a 49-year-old Kazakh camp survivor, testified that despite not knowingly committing any crimes, he was transferred to multiple prison and reeducation camps and forced to work at a garment factory near a camp outside of Tarbaghatay in 2018. Otarbay said he sewed unbranded school uniforms, factory worker uniforms, and repairman clothing. “Initially, we made pant belts. The stitches must be extremely straight. If we messed it up, we had to redo it. We tried this many times and finally learned to do [it] well. Later we sewed other clothes. For example, school uniforms, repairman clothes, factory worker uniforms. I sewed for about a month.” Otarbay stated he was not paid for his work.
Rebiya Memet was in her early 20s when she was transferred from her home to work on testing products at Zhongtai Group’s subsidiary Mahatma Chlor-Alkali plant in July 2017, according to Chinese state media. Rebiya is shown testing chemicals in this photo here. Rebiya is among thousands of farmers who have been subject to mandatory ideological and vocational training and required to take an oath of gratitude to the company and the Chinese government.
Arzu (pseudonym) was transferred from an internment camp to another camp, where he was taught to sew for three weeks. He told human-rights researchers that he was required to live and work in a factory for several months. “I was sent to a factory for five months, to make government uniforms at first. Then we started making dresses. I worked for eight hours a day. I had one hour of exercise in the yard… I was allowed to call family and friends, but not people abroad… There was no physical inspection, but we were given phones and asked to install a police app… We worked five days a week. The salary was 1,620 RMB [190.87 GBP] a month… We were really ineffective. We didn’t know how to do it. They had some Chinese woman come in for one week to try to teach us.”
The Coalition wishes to thank the following for source materials and assistance: Amnesty International, Sheffield Hallam University Forced Labour Lab, and Uyghur Human Rights Project.
Photos by China News, Fukang Energy, and Mahatma Chlor-Alkali