News & Politics

China Using Forced Labor to Pick Cotton: Report

Elizabeth Dalziel

It’s already been well documented that China is using what amounts to slave labor in its garment factories — factories that churn out fabrics used by some of the leading clothing manufacturers in the world.

But documents discovered by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington point to an even bigger atrocity: forced labor on farms to pick the cotton for export. It’s believed that upwards of half a million of these workers “volunteer” for work on these farms, with most of them belonging to the Uighur minority sect.


Government officials first sign “contracts of intent” with the cotton farms, determining the “number of workers hired, the location, the accommodation and wages,” after which pickers are then mobilised to “enthusiastically sign up”.

There are plenty of clues that this enthusiasm is less than whole-hearted. One report describes a village where people were “unwilling to work in agriculture”.

Officials had to visit again to perform “thought education work”. Eventually 20 were sent off, with a plan in place to “export” 60 more.

That’s straight out of Mao’s playbook.

The reasons for this campaign are simple: President Xi’s goal is to eliminate absolute poverty in time for the party’s centenary celebration next year. Forcing everyone to work would allow him to accomplish that goal.

But it’s much more than that. “In Xinjiang there is evidence of a far more political purpose and much higher levels of control, as well as massive targets and quotas which officials are under pressure to meet.” Like Hitler’s “Final Solution,” there is a high degree of organization and dedication, far more than you might expect for cotton farming. The crackdown is nationwide and it’s getting worse.

While China calls them “schools for de-radicalisation”, its own records suggest that the reality is a draconian system of internment which aims to replace old identities of faith and culture with an enforced loyalty to the Communist Party.

But the construction work didn’t stop with the camps.

Since 2018, a huge industrial expansion has been under way involving the building of hundreds of factories.

Two powerful incentives — paranoia and fear — are driving the Chinese to eradicate the Uighurs and turn them from simple villagers into secular, hardworking laborers for the state.

One propaganda report found by Dr Zenz suggests that the cotton fields present an opportunity to transform the “deep-rooted, lazy thinking” of poor, rural villagers by showing them that “labour is glorious”.

Such phrases echo the Chinese state’s view of Uighur lifestyles and customs as acting as a barrier to modernisation.

A desire to stay home and “bring up children” is described as an “important cause of poverty” by another propaganda report about the benefits of cotton picking.

There are eerie echos of the Gulags and Nazi concentration camps in the description of life at the “schools for de-radicalization”:

A policy document from Aksu, dated October this year, decrees that cotton pickers must be transported in groups and accompanied by officials who “eat, live, study and work with them, actively implementing thought education during cotton picking”.

China supplies about 20 percent of the world’s cotton and the city of Xinjiang produces 85 percent of China’s cotton. The only way to stop this atrocity is to not buy Chinese cotton, Chinese textiles, and Chinese clothing. Many companies will take a hit on their bottom lines and the price of raw cotton is likely to go up substantially.

But at least the cotton and the products they make won’t have the blood of innocents on them.

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