Almost 1.5 million Uyghurs have been detained in vocational training centers in Xinjiang, a region in the northwest of China. China has started building camps that they call “vocational training and education centers” in Xinjiang where detainees are subjected to forced labor in Xinjiang’s cotton fields. Right now, you could be wearing clothes made on the abuse of Uygurs’ labor — and, if you stand with Uyghurs, that is not okay.
Uyghurs are the largest Muslim Turkic ethnic group living in China. In 2017 the Chinese government started to eliminate the Uyghur culture and their Muslim religion by putting them in “re-education camps.” This mass detention started in 2017, and since then the government has exploited the resulting free labor and has gained economic benefits from it. Human Rights Advocate Amed Khan reported for the Cable News Network that the people in these detention centers “have described being subjected to indoctrination, physical abuse, and sterilization.” Simply put, these people are being detained because of their religion, which shows that China considers Islam an extremist ideology.
China believes that Uyghurs hold extremist ideas and that their religion is a threat to China’s sovereignty. An official Chinese Communist Party audio recording was obtained and circulated by Radio Free Asia which shows China’s view of Uyghurs. “Members of the public who have been chosen for re-education have been infected by an ideological illness. They have been infected with religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, and therefore they must seek treatment from a hospital as an inpatient.”
This is ethnic cleansing, and it has been going on since 2017. The Chinese government started to justify their action against Uyghur Muslims as part of Washington’s declaration of “war on terror.” The Chinese government banned men from growing long beards and women from wearing hijabs. A lot of people have been locked up because they learned Arabic or grew a beard. Practicing a religion is one of the basic human rights, and China is taking away Uyghurs’ rights to practice Islam. On top of that, Uyghur Muslim families are forced to welcome Chinese Communist officials into their homes in order to receive political education.
The United Kingdom imposed sanctions on Xinjiang cotton products, and this has caused China to retaliate and deny the allegations of abuse and forced labor. It seems that China does not want external actors such as humanitarian organizations or governments to interfere with the situation in Xinjiang.
So far, China has succeeded in hiding the real situation that is taking place in these concentration camps. They have prohibited social media within these concentration camps. They also have prohibited any international investigation, which makes it very difficult to see the genocide that is happening.“The term genocide should not be used casually,” wrote Khan in an aforementioned article. “But it’s correct to use it to describe China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.”
I believe in the power of voice, and there are several ways to help the Uyghur Muslims, as well as raise awareness. For instance, use your voice to sign petitions, and use your social media platforms to raise awareness. Some clothing companies such as H&M have boycotted China’s cotton. Therefore, boycotting brands that use cotton from Xinjiang could stop the forced labor. Please visit the website of the End Uyghur Forced Labour organization for more information about which brands are connected to the suppliers of Xinjiang cotton. This website will also allow you to call for action and sign a petition.
We as the St. Olaf community have the power to make a change by using our voices to sign petitions and supporting companies that have policies against the use of involuntary labor of any kind in our supply chain. Realizing that China is violating Uyghur’s human rights, we should all boycott Xinjiang cotton to help these people who are held against their will. Xinjiang is one of China’s biggest regions and produces about one fifth of the world’s cotton. By boycotting the cotton this region produces, we could help to reduce the forced labor.
Najah Siciid ’23 is from
Her major is quantitative economics.