A person carries a Nike bag at the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets shopping mall on November 24, 2020 in Central Valley, New York. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)
China is committing genocide against the Uyghur people—and woke pro-Black Lives Matter American corporations like Apple and Nike want to ensure that any backlash against Beijing doesn’t get in the way of their profits.
The point of contention: the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which passed the House this September and is waiting to go before the Senate.
“Companies like Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, they are unhappy about this bill and they’re trying to get it weakened to their liking,” explained Salih Hudayar, prime minister-in-exile of East Turkistan and founder of the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement (ETNAM), in an interview with TAC.
ETNAM, along with other Uyghur rights organizations, has worked to move forward the Act, which bans importing any goods made in Xinjiang unless proof is provided that no Uyghur slave labor contributed to their source materials or manufacture.
East Turkistan is the historical Uyghur homeland and comprises China’s Xinjiang province. The resource-rich territory contains massive quantities of minerals, coal, sugar, cotton, and agricultural crops as well as a giant labor pool that is exploited to work in Chinese clothing and footwear factories.
An estimated 1.8 million members of Xinjiang’s historical Uyghur population—a Muslim and Turkic people—have vanished into concentration camps and thousands of work camps run by China’s massive Bingtuan military corporation—officially the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC)—which is “powered by forced labor, serving a function similar to the Soviet Union’s gulags.”
The majority of forced laborers inside Xinjiang are used in construction and farming, but as Hudayar explained, “the other Uyghurs, they’re being shipped off, loaded onto buses, trains, and brought into China.”
Based on satellite analysis, Hudayar and ETNAM estimate there are at least 1.4 million Uyghurs in concentration camps (“re-education centers”), 1.2 million in prison, as well as 600,000 in forced labor camps.
As for population statistics, China lists Xinjiang’s population at 24.5 million, including 12 million Uyghurs and 11 million Chinese as well as one million Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Huai, and other ethnic minorities. However Hudayar says the actual Uyghur population may be closer to 35 million. Beijing has a vested interest in lying about how many Uyghurs there actually are so that if—and when—it erases them, there will be no record they ever numerically existed.
“What China’s doing in East Turkistan is a systemic campaign of colonization, genocide, and occupation which really you could say dates back to the 1880s,” Hudayar said, adding that “if I even said ‘East Turkistan’ in China, that would be a death sentence right there.”
President Donald Trump also signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act into law this past June, aiming to hold top Communist Party of China (CCP) and Chinese government bodies responsible for the imprisonment, enslavement, sterilization, and murder of Uyghurs. Trump has been one of the first world leaders to stand up to modern China, Hudayar said, adding that he also appreciates the congressional support he has received, particularly from Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Congressman James McGovern.
It’s been a long road to get the world to care, and Hudayar says time is running out. He fled to the United States with his family as a refugee in 2000 and currently lives in the D.C. metropolitan area. He has over 100 extended relatives who have been sent to prison and concentration camps in Xinjiang. Four have died since 2018, one in prison and three in the camps.
In addition to being worried about President-elect Joe Biden’s often cozy relationship with China and his son Hunter Biden’s ties—including his investment in a major Chinese surveillance company that has helped create the police state apparatus in Xinjiang—Hudayar is concerned the bill’s powerful opponents will weaken it beyond recognition, considering that the Act has been stalled in the Senate for some time now.
Apple’s supply chains extend into western Xinjiang, and Nike and many other corporations maintain massive factories in China where Uyghur slave labor has been discovered. Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs have been shipped to work outside of Xinjiang and often bought and sold on online forums. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) estimates that 80,000 Uyghurs were shipped out of Xinjiang between 2017 to 2019 alone, often “directly from detention camps.”
As the ASPI noted in its March 2020 report titled “Uyghurs for Sale”: “Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen.”
With news reports and human rights groups presenting evidence tying Coca-Cola to Xinjiang sugar and Uyghur workers at Nike factories, it is no wonder that lobbyists are working to water down the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.
Although Apple and Nike have already issued official denials promising that none of their products, materials, or labor comes from Xinjiang, there is such prevalent use of Uyghur slave labor in China—including outside of Xinjiang—that it’s beyond the realm of credibility to believe any large U.S. corporation can be certain that their operations and supply chains are not directly or indirectly profiting from it.
Apple’s proposed changes to the Act have leaked and include protecting the privacy of their supply chain information, requiring more specificity of designation of specific Chinese companies as having used Uyghur slave labor, and having more time for compliance. These are hardly the demands of a company that is truly confident it is not profiting from any slave labor or slave labor-derived materials.
While Apple, Nike, and others couldn’t contain their enthusiasm over Black Lives Matter earlier this year—while American cities burned—they apparently have no issue lobbying behind the scenes to ensure that a potential crackdown on actual slavery from a racist police state doesn’t hurt their bottom line. Apple was in tears over “the pain deeply etched in the soul of our nation” after the death of George Floyd, but now when faced with actual slavery? Not so much.
Like the NBA, whose players and managers passionately showed their support for BLM but shied away from supporting Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, Nike, Coca-Cola, and others only care about human rights when they can grandstand or use them to open up a new corner of the market in the woke capitalism game.
But the persecution and forced incarceration of millions of Uyghur Muslims is far from a game.
According to prominent anthropologist Adrian Zens, who is an expert on the Uyghur people and China’s persecution of the Uyghurs, the ongoing actions against them meets the UN definition of genocide. It includes the mass sterilization of Uyghur women, millions of forced abortions and mandated birth control, slave labor, mass imprisonment, communist brainwashing, the destruction of mosques, graveyards, and Uyghur historical sites, forced marriage to non-Uyghurs, torture, rapidly increasing facilitation of on-site cremation of the uncounted thousands of Uyghurs and ethnic minorities who die in the camps, starvation, and the intentional destruction of Uyghur families in order to imprison parents and indoctrinate children. According to Zenz, the Chinese government’s campaign against the Uyghurs is “the largest incarceration of an ethnoreligious minority since the Holocaust.”
The last few centuries have seen East Turkistan repeatedly betrayed by the Soviets and China as both countries aggressively sought its resources. China, in particular, sees the region as a crucial geostrategic location for military defensibleness and the success of its Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing fears the prospect of East Turkistan independence and the possibility that Uyghurs might be armed or supported by an outside power who could then break through China’s western flank.
After centuries of wanting control of the region, Hudayar says that China saw an opportunity post-9/11 to label all East Turkistan independence activists as “terrorists.” He believes Beijing also helped facilitate several Islamic terror attacks on innocent Chinese civilians in order to bolster support for ethnic cleansing and mass incarcerations in Xinjiang.
Southwest China and Xinjiang Province have among the highest cancer rates in the country, which some analysts believe could also be tied to radioactive fallout from Chinese nuclear weapon tests in the region. China’s history of testing nuclear weapons in Xinjiang stretches back decades, starting in 1964, and includes at least 40 tests.
In addition Xinjiang’s Uyghur population has alarmingly high rates of HIV/AIDS spread primarily by prostitutes. There is evidence that these AIDS-infected sex workers are sent intentionally by China as part of the government’s overall campaign to kill the Uyghur population. As defector Feruk Pidakar told Radio Free Asia in 2015, “although the government has set strict rules banning Muslim praying, fasting and other religious activities to maintain ‘social stability’ and national security, it has failed to ban the illegal activities of Han sex workers and continued to allow red-light districts.”
Uyghur Muslims are also murdered and have their organs harvested—an estimated 25,000 young Uyghur men each year—with these valuable body parts then sold as “halal” organs to wealthy Muslims in countries such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations.
The companies lobbying to continue profiting from the use of Uyghur Muslim slave labor are hypocritical and nefarious actors of the worst kind. Their cynical virtue signaling and manipulation of popular solidarity and human empathy is revolting. They deserve to be called out for their hypocrisy and potentially treasonous behavior.
China, meanwhile, angrily denies that a genocide of Uyghurs is taking place. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the “so-called genocide” is nothing but “a rumor and a farce fabricated by some anti-Chinese forces to slander China.” Lijian furiously condemned and threatened Canada after its parliament called the persecution of Uyghurs a genocide in October, saying their accusation was a “blatant interference in China’s internal affairs.”
With China’s surveillance system using chips from Nvidia and Intel and American companies like Calvin Klein and Apple promoting riots across the country in order to sell shoes, drinks and phones, it’s not only important to doubt the sincerity of these woke corporations but also to take note of the very real potential harm and ongoing human rights abuses being enabled and worsened by them.
As for the Muslim world, much of which has failed to speak up in defense of the Uyghurs, Hudayar says many of his people have lost interest in rhetoric about the ummah, or worldwide Muslim community.
“What this has taught us is that we need to care about our own nation’s survival before anything else,” Hudayar says, noting that he generally feels safe in the U.S. but is careful where he eats. He faced attempted infiltration of ETNAM in 2018 by an Uyghur woman he believes was working for Chinese intelligence.
Many Uyghurs are compelled to work as assets for China and either betray their own people or have their families tortured and killed.
“I don’t think China will try to assassinate me any ways other than poison. They don’t want a public incident. And even if they did assassinate me, they would turn me into a hero,” Hudayar said. He adds that he’s frequently attacked by Chinese bots on Twitter. “What they’d prefer is to marginalize you and kill your image.”
Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, and LL Bean did not respond to TAC by press deadline. A spokesperson for Calvin Klein linked to parent company PVH Corp.’s page on corporate responsibility.
Colin Kaepernick famously became the face of Nike in September of last year, with the company releasing an ad featuring a close-up of his face and the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Perhaps that slogan should be updated to: “Believe in profits. Even if it means working with murderous totalitarian communists who use slave labor.”
Paul Brian is a freelance journalist. He has reported for the BBC, Reuters, and Foreign Policy, and contributed to The Week, The Federalist, and others. You can follow him on Twitter @paulrbrian or visit his website www.paulrbrian.com.