Beyond the Camps: Beijing’s Long-Term Scheme of Coercive Labor, Poverty Alleviation and Social Control in Xinjiang

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2019

442 rural surplus laborers from Kashgar and Hotan, Xinjiang China, are sent off to work in an industrial park in Korla in a “centralized fashion”.

Adrian Zenz, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow in China Studies
Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

1.0 Introduction

After recruiting a hundred or more thousand police forces, installing massive surveillance systems, and interning vast numbers of predominantly Turkic minority population members, many have been wondering about Beijing’s next step in its so-called “war on Terror” in Xinjiang. Since the second half of 2018, limited but apparently growing numbers of detainees have been released into different forms of forced labor. In this report it is argued based on government documents that the state’s long-term stability maintenance strategy in Xinjiang is predicated upon a perverse and extremely intrusive combination of forced or at least involuntary training and labor, intergenerational separation and social control over family units. Much of this is being implemented under the heading and guise of “poverty alleviation”.

Below, the author identifies three distinct flow schemes by which the state seeks to place the vast majority of adult Uyghurs and other minority populations, both men and women, into different forms of coercive or at least involuntary, labor-intensive factory work. This is achieved through a combination of internment camp workshops, large industrial parks, and village-based satellite factories. While the parents are being herded into full-time work, their children are put into full-time (at least full day-time) education and training settings. This includes children below preschool age (infants and toddlers), so that ethnic minority women are being “liberated” and “freed” to engage in full-time wage labor. Notably, both factory and educational settings are essentially state-controlled environments that facilitate ongoing political indoctrination while barring religious practices. As a result, the dissolution of traditional, religious and family life is only a matter of time. The targeted use of village work teams and village-based satellite factories means that these “poverty alleviation” and social re-engineering projects amount to a grand scheme that penetrates every corner of ethnic minority society with unprecedented pervasiveness.

Consequently, it is argued that Beijing’s grand scheme of forced education, training and labor in Xinjiang simultaneously achieves at least five main goals in this core region of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): maintain the minority population in state-controlled environments, inhibit intergenerational cultural transmission, achieve national poverty reduction goals, promote economic growth along the BRI, and bring glory to the Party by achieving all of these four aims in a way that is ideologically consistent with the core tenets of Communist thought – using labor to transform religious minority groups towards a predominantly materialist worldview, akin to the Reform Through Labor (劳改) program. Government documents outline that the transformation of rural populations from farming to wage labor should involve not just the acquisition of new skills, but also a thorough identity and worldview change in line with Party ideology. In this context, labor is hailed as a strategic means to eradicate “extremist” ideologies.

The domestic and global implications of this grand scheme, where internment camps form only one component of a society-wide coercive social re-engineering strategy, are dramatic. Government documents blatantly boast about the fact that the labor supply from the vast internment camp network has been attracting many Chinese companies to set up production in Xinjiang, supporting the economic growth goals of the BRI.

Through the mutual pairing assistance program, 19 cities and provinces from the nation’s most developed regions are pouring billions of Chinese Yuan (RMB) into the establishment of factories in minority regions. Some of them directly involve the use of internment camp labor, while others use Uyghur women who must then leave their children in educational or day care facilities in order to engage in full time factory labor. Another aspect of Beijing’s labor schemes in the region involve the essentially mandatory relocation of large numbers of minority workers from Xinjiang to participating companies in eastern China.

Soon, many or most products made in China that rely at least in part on low-skilled, labor-intensive manufacturing, may contain elements of involuntary ethnic minority labor from Xinjiang.

The findings presented below call for nothing less than a global investigation of supply chains involving Chinese products or product components, and for a greatly increased scrutiny of trade flows along China’s Belt and Road. They also warrant a strong response from not only the international community in regards to China’s intrusive coerced social re-engineering practices among its northwestern Turkic minorities, but from China’s own civil society that should not want to see such totalitarian labor and family systems extended to all of China.

2.0 Winning The “War Against Poverty”: Industry-Based Poverty Alleviation

2.1 Industry-Based Poverty Alleviation Through Labor-Intensive Manufacturing

In line of Xi Jinping’s goal to eradicate poverty and establish a moderately prosperous society (MPS) in the entire nation by 2020, poverty alleviation has become an urgent goal in Xinjiang. According to government documents, the region’s “war on poverty” (literally: “fight for poverty-alleviation”, tuofu gongjian 脱贫攻坚) in 2019 has reached a crucial phase. The urgent aim is to achieve the complete eradication of poverty in time for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. In all this, the central government is putting special attention to winning the war against poverty in southern Xinjiang.[1] Another report states that poverty alleviation is commensurate with a “military command”, and that “the southern four regions and prefectures are the main battle field” in the war against poverty. [2] In this relentless “battle”, every administrative level is to put pressure on each successive lower level in order to “consolidate poverty alleviation responsibilities and increase the effectiveness of accountability.”[3]

Other parts of China are implementing very similar poverty alleviation schemes, and poverty alleviation through higher-income work is at first glance a positive development. The issue in Xinjiang is that this scheme is specifically targeting predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities on a massive scale, and is coupled with penetrating social control, a pervasive surveillance state, an unprecedented extrajudicial internment campaign, and a deeper social re-engineering intention on the side of the state that effectively amounts to targeted cultural genocide.

Poverty alleviation comes in different forms, at times through improved farming. But the main focus in Xinjiang’s ethnic minority regions has recently shifted to so-called “industry-based poverty alleviation” (chanye fupin 产业扶贫).[4] Since the past few years, this has involved a systematic training of so-called rural surplus laborers in order to place them in low-skilled factory work. Most recently, this has involved the large-scale construction of so-called “poverty alleviation workshops” (fupin chejian 扶贫车间), which are smaller-scale “satellite factories” (weixing gongchang 卫星工厂). The main purpose of satellite factories is to move as many rural dwellers into factory-based wage labor by “sending work to homes” (gangwei song dao jia 岗位送到家) and “letting villagers take up jobs at their home’s doorstep” (rang cunmin jia menkou jiuye 让村民家门口就业).[5]

At least since 2018, Xinjiang’s primary poverty alleviation and stability maintenance method has been to promote wage labor among all ethnic minority adults. Every household must have at least one person in stable employment, although numerous local level reports indicate that the trend is very much to also push women into factory work.[6] Between 2016 and 2020, Xinjiang was scheduled to lift 2.61 million persons out of poverty.[7] Of these, 1.74 million are considered able to work and are expected to “get out of poverty” through different forms of training and employment. Much of this new stable employment is to be provided in the form of labor-intensive manufacturing. The other 0.87 million will be taken care of through social welfare systems and related subsidies.

An October  2017 document from Kashgar Prefecture provides us with a more detailed view of how the state is pursuing the poverty alleviation of every single person. Between 2015-20, this region alone was scheduled to lift 1.21m people out of poverty. [8] Specifically, this was planned through five different means:

  1. Industrial development (poverty alleviation for 529,000 persons)
  2. Re-training rural surplus laborers for full-time wage employment (poverty alleviation for 217,000 persons)
  3. Physical relocation to new housing developments (poverty alleviation for 54,900 persons)
  4. Environmental protection programs (poverty alleviation for 37,400 persons)
  5. Policy measures, referring to subsidies in monetary form or animals (poverty alleviation for 371,600 persons)

Poverty alleviation through job training and employment is further broken down into six different categories:[9]

  1. Move laborers to other parts of Xinjiang (疆内跨地区转移就业)
  2. Move laborers to other parts of China (转移内地就业)
  3. Move laborers to Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) locations for work (转移兵团就业)
  4. Move laborers into urban industrial parks (就地就近转移城镇、企业、园区)
  5. Get laborers into satellite factories (转移卫星工厂)
  6. Support small-scale self-employment (支持小微创业带动就业)

The strategy for moving vast numbers of rural minority populations into wage labor is predicated upon low-skilled, labor-intensive industries that only require a limited amount of job training. In particular, this centers around the manufacturing of textiles and garments, electronic product assembly, footwear, toys, furniture, specialty handicraft, and similar products. [10]

Among these, textile and garment production are the main focus. By 2023, Xinjiang wants to have 1 million workers in textile and garment industries, with 650,000 of them coming from the southern Uyghur majority regions. [11]

2.2 Xinjiang’s Fine-Grained Poverty Alleviation Scheme: Comprehensive and Essentially Involuntary

Importantly, government documents often demand that Xinjiang’s poverty-alleviation efforts must be “fine-grained”. “Fine-grained poverty alleviation” (精准扶贫) means that the entire scheme is all-encompassing and involves literally every single citizen.[12] Besides continually emphasizing the “fine-grained” nature of all poverty alleviation efforts, they also must achieve “full coverage” (全盖) in every respect. No one is to be missed, and local government documents obtained by the author indeed do show detailed spreadsheets that list the ability to work and employment status of every adult, and the education or training status of every minor (including some young adults). These lists typically show individual or household incomes and whether they exceed the official poverty level. They also contain the government’s assumed reason why someone is in poverty (e.g. “lacks skills”), and how to deal with each particular person and household. Through local village work teams, the state has literally developed a poverty alleviation strategy for everyone. The government has even developed a “fine-grained poverty alleviation smartphone app” (精准扶贫app) in order to enhance local-level precision in poverty alleviation (Figure 1).[13] Among other things, the app asks government staff to indicate whether persons are already “participating in training” (参加培训).









Figure 1: Annotated screenshots of the “precise poverty alleviation” app (精准扶贫-精准脱贫), showing how to enter and submit family income and employment details in six steps. Source reference code 51705.

The resulting data is fed into the central “Xinjiang big data platform” (自治区大数据平台). The author was able to review documents fed into (and generated by) this platform. It consists of vast spreadsheets with extremely detailed personal information about the employment status (and, in some cases, the internment status) of every adult citizen, and the education and training status of non-employed minors. This is reflective of the government’s goal that every single person must be in a state-approved place of education, training, work, or approved non-employment (social benefits, elderly care).

The implications of this scheme are far-reaching, because the primary goal of CCP-style poverty alleviation is social stability. All minority persons in Xinjiang are therefore now to be in care, education, training, work, approved (improved) farming, or on state subsidies (unable to work, elderly). Everyone must be in a state-designated or state-approved place. Farmers or pastoralists can only continue with their traditional livelihood mode with the consent of their local government. The default destination for the ambiguous rural dwellers who have traditionally been engaging in a mix of seasonal labor and seasonal farming is now full-time wage labor, especially labor-intensive factory work. It has been said that all of Xinjiang has become an open-air prison, with the difference of internment and non-internment being a matter of degree. It can equally be said that the entire region has become a site of involuntary labor assignments: the level of coerciveness of one’s occupation may vary, but being outside a government-approved work category, or failing to comply with the state’s opinion of what you in particular should be doing, is no longer an option.

Specifically, Xinjiang’s 2019 government work plan mandates that everyone who is capable of working must be trained and employed.[14] Poor households or those without employment must have at least one person in stable employment (贫困家庭每户至少一名劳动力学习掌握一门就业技能). However, the evidence presented below clearly indicates that the state aims to place all minority adults into full-time labor, including women.

Given the intrusiveness of this scheme and its penetration into the inner workings of every household, not everyone will want to be part of this rigid plan. The government has anticipated this and is making thought transformation an important component of the poverty alleviation scheme. According to the CCP, winning the fight against poverty requires solving ideological problems. Notably, it is said that the attitude of minority citizens must be changed from “I am asked to get rid of poverty” to “I want to get rid of poverty” (变“要我脱贫”为“我要脱贫). [15]

Clearly, “industry-based poverty alleviation” is not voluntary but mandatory. Those who resist being “alleviated” from their “poverty” are subjected to ideological education so that their thinking aligns with the state’s goals. After all, placing people into wage labor is not only and not even primarily an economic goal. Rather, it is very much an ideological goal. State discourses portray factory labor as a if not the “modern lifestyle” that has the power to “liberate” backwards minority populations from their traditional (and religious) lifestyles and mindsets.

Resistance to poverty alleviation and wage labor is akin to resistance to modernization, which in turn is a sign of extremism. Refusing to cooperate with this scheme is likely reason enough to be sent to a re-education facility. A pertinent media article on state-mandated employment in Xinjiang cites a local Uyghur person as saying: “If the government tells you to go work, you go”.[16] Item 16 in a list of 75 signs of extremism in Xinjiang (published in 2014) says that refusing to accept government management, government-issued welfare payments or “rescue” attempts for religious reasons is a sign of extremism.[17] Even more blatant is a handwritten checklist, dated 2018 and written in Uyghur, which is circulated among Uyghur exile circles.[18] This checklist is believed to be used by local cadres in Xinjiang to evaluate the “trustworthiness” of rural Uyghur households. Item 8 on this list of eight “forbidden behaviors” states that “there must not be any resistance to poverty alleviation programs.”[19]

2.3 Summary

In sum, the author argues that Beijing’s grand scheme of mandatory education or training and subsequent labor achieves five major goals:

  1. The ethnic minority population is being moved into closed, surveilled and state-controlled training and work environments that facilitate on-going indoctrination.
  2. This setup effectively inhibits the intergenerational transmission of culture, religion and language by reducing joint family time and instead drastically increasing parents’ and children’s exposure to state teaching and training.
  3. It achieves Xi Jinping’s national poverty reduction goals through (supposedly) higher incomes from wage labor.
  4. It boosts Xinjiang’s total GDP and income figures, which legitimizes the CCP’s presence in Xinjiang and brings glory to the core region of the BRI.
  5. The achievement of all of the above through labor is highly consistent with CCP ideology. Labor is imputed with a transformative power that transforms “backward” minorities and “unproductive” religious figures with their otherworldly worldviews and non-materialist (i.e. spiritual) preoccupations to “useful” members of society. Economic growth not only promotes social stability but also provides an ideological justification of a materialist worldview. As a result, the Party can claim credit for improving everyone’s material conditions, and rightfully demand “gratefulness” and wholehearted support from all citizens.

Powered by digital information systems and financed by central government poverty alleviation budgets, the author believes that this scheme represents Beijing’s long-term solution to establish ultimate social control and in-depth generational change towards CCP ideology in this restive region. As men and women are herded into factories while their children are moved into (increasingly full-time) educational facilities, the dissolution of traditional, religious and family life is only a matter of time.

3.0 Chinese Terms for Vocational Training Internment Camps (VTICs)

Below, Xinjiang’s “Vocational Skills Education Training Centers” (职业技能教育培训中心) are referred to as “Vocational Training Internment Camps” (VTICs).[20] This terminology acknowledges that these facilities offer some form of vocational training, although this “training” only constitutes a relatively small part of the whole indoctrination package. At the same time, this terminology clarifies that these facilities function in a prison-like internment fashion.

In Chinese, VTICs are often abbreviated as “Education Training Centers” (教培中心). [21] These are the only types of extrajudicial forms of internment whose existence Beijing has officially acknowledged, although it argues that they have a legal basis.

In Xinjiang, the abbreviated form “Education Training Centers” (教培中心) very consistently refers to the “Vocational Skills Education Training Centers” (职业技能教育培训中心). An alternative spelling is “Education Training Centers” with all characters spelled out (教育培训中心). Another common use is the term “Vocational Education Training Center” (职业教育培训中心 ) which leaves out the word “skills”.[22]

Generally, VTICs in Xinjiang can typically be distinguished from other vocational facilities by the ending “center” (中心).  If a facility or institution ends with the word “school”, as in “Vocational Skills School” (职业技术学校), then it is typically not a VTIC. This distinction is for example evident from a document that lists the “Lop County Vocational Skills School” next to the “Education Training Center” (洛浦县职业技术学校和教培中心).[23] However, the term “Education Training Center” (教育培训中心) by itself is commonly used in Xinjiang and elsewhere for other types of training, including teacher training, cadre training, or for private learning institutions. It can denote a VTIC, but this must be established from the context.

4.0 Flow Schemes Overview

The author has identified three major flow schemes by which minority citizens in Xinjiang are put through training and subsequent employment.

Flow 1 pertains to persons in VTICs. They are “released” into fully coercive forms of labor. Flows 2 and 3 pertain to persons in general society outside the internment camp network.

Flow 1: VTIC internment -> forced labor at camp factories or nearby industrial parks -> forced labor at local satellite factories in home regions (or other industrial sites)

The Chinese flow terminology for this is coded as:

教育培训中心+发展纺织服装等劳动密集型产业试点 (VTIC plus developing textile, garment etc., labor-intensive industry pilot [projects])

Alternative spellings for教育培训中心+ are: 教培中心+, JP+ or职业技能培训中心

The flow scheme can also be coded as 教培中心+ 扶贫车间.

The workers in this flow are referred to as “trainees” (培训人员) or “persons in re-education” (教转人员). These VTIC “trainees” can end up in factories on VTIC compounds, in industrial parks (产业区) which can be located near VTICs (or VTICs in them), or rural or village satellite factories (卫星工厂). The employing company also provides the training (despite the supposed “vocational” training in the camps), and receives a government subsidy in exchange. VTIC workers who are trained must also be employed. After a certain time period, they may then be transferred to their home regions, where they may be put to work in local satellite factories. This scheme operates to some extent under the guise of “poverty alleviation.”

Flow 2: Rural surplus laborers -> centralized training -> employment

The Chinese flow terminology for this is often coded as:

Train a person, send off a person, employ a person, rescue a household from poverty


Alternative coding: Unified sending off, unified classes, enterprise, centralized training, centralized employment


Flow 3: Village work teams -> establish satellite factories and childcare facilities -> all who can work are put into training and work (especially women)

The Chinese flow terminology for this is coded as:

Company head office (or company or base) -> satellite factory

总部+卫星工厂 or  企业+卫星工厂 or基地+卫星工厂+贫困户 or 公司+卫星工厂+农户 or 龙头企业+卫星工厂

While all three flow schemes operate on different levels of coercion, with flow 1 representing the highest coercion level, all of them share significant similarities. They all serve a primary stability maintenance goal by implementing “de-extremification” and transforming people’s minds. All three conduct thought education, political indoctrination, and end up placing minorities into controlled, full-time labor environments. The result is greater state control, reduced family interaction and influence, and reduced intergenerational cultural, linguistic and religious transmission.

5.0 Flow 1: VTIC Forced Labor

5.1 Overview of VTIC Labor Policies

VTIC forced labor is not primarily about economic gain or growth, but has stability maintenance as its core focus. In a document issued by the XUAR Development and Reform Commission, the VTIC+ labor intensive manufacturing model is explicitly listed as a key component of the stability maintenance infrastructure, along with social management, surveillance systems, central control systems, peaceful city systems and network security.[24] Other documents likewise indicate that VTIC labor primarily serves “government social stability needs” (政府出于维稳的需求).[25]

Evidence of the widespread implementation of forced labor for VTIC “graduates” can be found at several administrative levels.

The probably most blatant admission that VTIC labor has increasingly become a major economic driver for the entire region comes from a December 2018 statement issued by the Xinjiang Development and Reform Commission on the region’s economic state. To quote:

With VTICs as the carrier, [Xinjiang] has attracted a large number of coastal enterprises from the mainland to invest and build factories, which has powerfully expanded employment and promoted increased incomes. [26]

This statement is apt, because Xinjiang has implemented extensive promotional policies to attract companies from other parts of China to become involved in VTIC-related manufacturing. Numerous documents indicate that the establishment of comprehensive, labor-intensive manufacturing sites in Xinjiang is intended to boost the economic dynamics behind the BRI.[27]

For example, an April 2018 notice on promoting the textile and garment industry features its own policy section on “supporting VTIC plus developing textile and garment manufacturing”.[28] This section states that the construction of “VTIC plus” production factories is to be supported. The key Uyghur majority population regions of Kashgar, Hotan and Kisilzu Prefectures, along with Kalping and Wushen Counties in Aksu Prefecture, are to support the “VTIC plus” development of labor-intensive industries. Specifically, local governments are mandated to invest in the construction of labor-intensive manufacturing near VTICs by granting appropriate subsidies.

A project reporting guidelines document issued by the Lop County government refers to an ordinance no.56 from 2018 when stating that poverty alleviation funds are supposed to focus on the “establishment of new and the expansion of existing poverty alleviation workshops (and satellite factories) in county centers or VTICs.”[29] This reference establishes a direct link between the VTICs and related workshops, all funded in the name of poverty alleviation.

More specific government implementation documents leave no doubt that this forced labor scheme explicitly pertains to “persons in re-education”. In order to “thoroughly implement” the above-mentioned notice from April 2018, the prefecture (here the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture) promotes the Yili Prefecture – Jiangsu Province Textile and Garment Industrial Park as the base for the VTIC plus model, with the aim to provide employment to these “persons in re-education” (教转人员) [30] . Another Yili Prefecture report uses similar terminology with highly incriminating potential, referring to a systematic employment provision for “VTIC persons” (教培人员).[31]

In the same vein, a report by Ma Xiongcheng, the vice chairman of Xinjiang’s Political Consultative Conference (自治区政协副主席) not only confirms that putting VTIC detainees to work in factories is a Xinjiang-wide policy, but also that this strategy explicitly fulfills political re-education goals:

All local regions are to focus on the overall goal of social stability and long-term enduring peace, and through the development of characteristic industries, the establishment of satellite factories… increase farmers’ incomes and promote poverty alleviation. In particular, satellite factories are to be built in the vocational skills education training centers, so that people affected by terrorism and extreme thoughts can learn the nation’s common language, study law, and understand the right and wrong. They can also learn skills, become able to work, and increase their incomes. All these bring hope, especially to poor families.[32] (emphasis added)

Similarly, a Karakax (Moyu) County (Hotan Prefecture) government directive regarding the promotion of VTIC plus schemes emphasizes how this scheme both seeks to focus on re-education (thought transformation) and employment promotion among VTIC detainees:

Strengthening vocational skills education training, focusing on thought transformation…. Continue to expand the “VTIC plus” model, get more [VTIC] trainees to take up employment.[33]

Several other government documents outline the precise subsidies awarded to companies that participate in the “VTIC plus” model and train and employ VTIC detainees. Besides a 5,000 RMB subsidy given over 3 years, companies that employ “persons in re-education” (教转人员) in labor-intensive industries can get a shipping cost subsidy equivalent to 4 percent of their sales volume, and receive a 1,800 RMB subsidy for each re-education worker for training them in the relevant skill.[34] Consequently, this and numerous other documents clearly indicate that the supposed “vocational training” implemented in the VTICs does not at all suffice to prepare the detainees for future employment. Rather, the actually needed skills training is conducted by the participating companies, which is the reason why the government offers them financial compensation for doing so.

Xinjiang’s minority regions not only grant special subsidies to companies that employ VTIC detainees, but to any firms that set up labor-intensive industries in rural minority settings, provided that they meet minimum requirements. A government notice issued by Karakax (Moyu) County states that companies that employ over 100 workers for at least one year and achieve a worker to workshop floor space ratio of at least 1 worker per 10sqm are eligible to receive subsidies. [35] Interestingly, for those who participate in the “VTIC plus” scheme and employ VTIC detainees, the minimum employment requirement is reduced by half (50 workers).

In 2018, Kashgar Prefecture alone intended to put 100,000 VTIC graduates to labor in industrial parks. [36] Within that quota, Kashgar’s textile and garment manufacturing, with production based in industrial parks, was scheduled to employ 50,000 VTIC detainees, while related satellite factories were to employ another 20,000. For each employed detainee, the factories were to receive the standard 5,000 RMB subsidy, split over three years. For 2018, the subsidy amount was 2,000 RMB. The 2018 subsidies for textile and garment-related VTIC labor alone were expected to cost the prefecture 126 million RMB, which would translate to the employment of 63,000 trainees (just below the stated 50,000 plus 20,000). By comparison, in 2018 the prefecture received 666 million RMB in food subsidies for VTIC detainees, which could be enough to feed anywhere between 166,000 and 405,000 VTIC detainees throughout that whole year.[37] This indicates that only select detainees are placed or “released” into forced labor.[38]

In some instances, VTICs are directly located within industrial parks. For example, a document pertaining to the Lop County (Hotan Prefecture) Industrial Park states that the park’s north campus has a vocational training camp (教培中心), and together with the vocational training school there are 7,000 persons in these two facilities.[39] Overall, the park hosts 155 companies. This also means that these companies very likely recruit a mix of VTIC and non-VTIC labor, representing different levels of coercion.

5.2 VTIC Forced Labor Cases

A particularly pertinent example of forced labor comes from the Xinhe County (Aksu Prefecture) Industrial Park. [40] In June 2018, an unnamed garment making company set up a textile vocational training camp work base (服饰教培实训基地) in the park in order to providing employment for 500 VTIC trainees. All of the company’s workers are said to be from the Xinhe County VTIC (新和县教培中心), and the government provides police forces and special instructors so that the factory is run in a “semi-military style management” fashion (半军事化管理). This latter fact is highlighted in the project’s description as a “project benefit”, likely because it might appease the security concerns of enterprises over having to deal with hundreds of internment camp detainees.

By participating in this “stability maintenance” project, the participating company secures significant financial benefits. It gets free use of the factory for two years, and after that for half of the regular market price. Of the total investment of 15 million RMB, the local government provided 10 million. The three factories come with security and guard equipment. The government also pays the usual 1,800 RMB subsidy per VTIC worker for the training that they get at the factory, and a 5,000 RMB subsidy per employed worker (split over three years).

A second example of forced VTIC labor comes from a company from Shenzhen that prides itself in having “transferred 3,000 Uyghurs from the stove to the (textile making) machine”.[41] This slogan refers to minority women who would traditionally be responsible for running their households. The founder of Jinfuzhen Clothing Corporation (金富婕服装有限公司) spent 16 years in the Xinjiang army. In his own words, this experience “in the army’s large furnace” made him the man who he is today, and in 2015 he proudly returned to Xinjiang. His firm is a classic model of a military civil fusion company (军民融合典型企业) and considered a model poverty alleviation company.

Overall, Jinfuyu has trained 6,000 ethnic minority villagers in 287 villages and established 2 satellite factories with 370 workers. In September 2018, it established a factory in the Kashgar VTIC (喀什教培中心), providing training and work for 560 VTIC detainees.[42] In order to speed up the transformation of workers from farmers to factory laborers, from the stove to the machine, from the very first day that they enter the factory the company strictly implements a combination of “worldview education + Chinese language study + skills training” (观念培育+国语学习+技能培训). This approach presumably applies to both VTIC and non-VTIC workers. According to a government website, the secret behind Jinfuzhen’s success is its “paramilitary-style management” (准军事化管理).[43]

Jinfuzhen is also an example of how manufacturers based in Xinjiang form strategic linkages with eastern Chinese companies that often lead to their products eventually being exported abroad. Jinfuzhen has formed strategic trade partnerships with Jiangsu’s Guotai (江苏国泰), Shanghai’s Tiankun (上海天坤), and Nanjing’s Daoyu import/export companies, making it a “key enterprise for Xinjiang’s textile industry”.[44] Xinhua reports note that the company exports firefighter clothing to Germany, and was preparing to make clothing for the French fashion brand Decathlon.[45]

A third example, is Meili’ao Fashion Corporation (美丽奥服装有限公司), a company from Shenzhen that is featured in an article titled “getting 2,000 poor women from the stove to the machine”.[46] The workers shown on photos depicting the company’s workshop wear the exact same uniform as a young Uyghur woman who is featured in a VTIC propaganda video.[47] In the article, the company’s chairwoman states that she is personally witnessing “the process of how de-extremification causes workers to become born again”. The Chinese term for “born again” (重生) is the exact same as in the Chinese translation of the Bible, in the well-known passage in the book of John (3:7) where Jesus says to Nicodemus: “You must be born again”. The implication here is that re-education and subsequent factory labor is akin to a process of spiritual transformation and salvation, whereby the minorities are “rescued” from the brink of disaster (religious extremism) and “saved” through the Communist Party’s enlightened re-education program. A more recent media report titled “Returning to normal life after experiencing salvation” confirms that Meili’ao Fashion Corporation employs VTIC detainees straight after their “graduation”.[48]

Participation in the government’s “salvation” process will likely not lead to any eternal rewards, but companies are rewarded not only through subsidies but through substantial tax savings. A Meili’ao Fashion Corporation spokesperson reported that the company’s factory in Kashgar Prefecture enjoys a three-year tax exemption, and a 50 percent tax discount for the three years after that.[49]

5.3 VTIC Plus Scheme Funding

Importantly, government-sponsored factories that utilize VTIC labor are typically funded from “poverty alleviation and development funds” (扶贫发展资金), which are part of the central government’s financial assistance to the region. In 2018, Beijing provided 6.9 billion RMB of such funding to the region.[50]

For example, the Shule County government established a 19,920sqm factory in the Shule County Industrial Park with 39.8 million RMB from such funds. This was done in order to “solve the employment problem of poor VTIC households”. The project’s administration involved various authorities, including the Education and training Bureau (教培中心) that oversees the VTICs, and the poverty alleviation office.[51]

Likewise, Akto County funded the construction of seven “poverty alleviation workshops” (扶贫车间) through the “VTIC plus” model (教培中心+), all from the poverty alleviation and development fund.[52] With a combined 13,080sqm of floor space, the workshops were expected to provide jobs for 1,320 persons, at a total cost of 26.2 million RMB. Similarly, Pishan County’s (Hotan Prefecture) 2019 poverty alleviation projects list featured a “VTIC standardized factory park” (皮山县教培中心标准化厂区). [53] This park was to be constructed directly on the VTIC compound, with the Education and Training Bureau (教培局) being the project’s administrative authority. The project was budgeted to invest 46 million RMB for 16 factory buildings with a total of 31,070sqm floor space. It was expected to provide employment for 1,560 persons. Finally, a government spreadsheet from Karakax (Moyu) County details a construction project for the Moyu County VTIC and connected “poverty alleviation workshop”. Funded out of “poverty alleviation funds” (财政专项扶贫资金) totaling 50 million RMB, the compound was scheduled to encompass an area of 23,049sqm.

5.4 VTIC Forced Labor: Possible Final Destinations

However, VTIC factory work is apparently not necessarily the final destination for VTIC detainees. Rather, as stated in one document, they are sent by the VTIC into factories in order to “receive training” (进行实训), so that afterwards they return home and work in local village satellite factories. [54] One of the many propaganda pieces on the Hotan County VTIC actually gives a specific example for this very scenario (Figure 2). [55]

Figure 2: A Hotan County VTIC detainee now works in a satellite factory near her home region

Similarly, a 2018 Bayingolin Prefecture poverty alleviation project overview shows a cooperation between a satellite factory construction project extending over 6 villages and the local VTIC, and there are numerous similar examples from other regions.[56] This appears to be the method by which detainees are eventually “re-integrated into society”. Forced VTIC factory labor could therefore be a temporary means to this end, although there is no guarantee that this will always be the case.

5.5 Detailed Evidence of the Ages and Wages of VTIC Workers

A series of spreadsheets titled “poverty alleviation groups” (扶贫群) that were produced by local government authorities from Asilanbage Township (阿斯兰巴格乡) in Yarkand (Shache) County, Kashgar Prefecture, list the employment situation of thousands of rural Uyghur residents.[57] These documents provide crucial evidence of the forced labor situation among rural Uyghurs who are classified as the “three types of persons” (sanlei renyuan 三类人员) in accordance with their form of internment: persons who have been formally sentenced, persons in detention, and persons in centralized re-education (服刑人员、收押人员、集中教育转化人员).

These spreadsheets list 148 Uyghur adults who are employed in the “Yarkand County satellite factory [for] three types of persons” (莎车县SL卫星工厂). It is not clear whether this designation refers to one or several satellite factories within internment or detention facilities, or whether it denotes internment camp “graduates” who work in such factories somewhere in the county seat. Two other entries in these spreadsheets list two persons as working in “satellite factories” on VTIC compounds, with one of them shown to be the Ailixihu Township VTIC (艾力西湖教培中心).

In 2018, the youngest of the persons on these lists was 16 years old and the oldest 74 years, with the average age being 39 years. Nearly half (69) of these satellite factory workers were 40 years or older. Of the 43 persons with a listed monthly wage, about two thirds (28) only earned 800 RMB per month, 7 were shown to earn 1,000 RMB, and 9 earned 2,600 RMB or more. The average wage was only 1,228 RMB. In contrast, public documents suggest that such workers can earn between 1,500 and 3,500 RMB per month.[58]

Interestingly, the average age of those with a wage of 1,000 RMB and less was much higher than that of those with a wage over 1,000 RMB (43 versus 26 years). In several instances, the wage of those on these lists was given as “zero”, although it is unclear whether this derives from a lack of data or from the fact that these persons are literally working for free. The two persons listed as working in a “VTIC satellite factory” had average monthly earnings of 667 and 1,000 RMB respectively. One of them only worked in this facility for four months (September to December 2018), while the other had been there for 18 months in late 2018 and did not have a scheduled release date.

5.6 VTIC (Flow 1) Labor Conclusions

The wider implication of the combination of VTIC labor with satellite factories is that eventually, many or most VTIC detainees end up in a place of coercive labor alongside other workers that did not go through the region’s extrajudicial internment system. Consequently, it will soon become impossible to clearly determine whether a labor-intensive manufacturing product in Xinjiang will be made with labor from former detainees or not. However, even non-VTIC labor involves different degrees of coercion. In Xinjiang’s currently extremely securitized social environment, there is very limited (if any) space for voluntary choices.

6.0 Flow 2: The Centralized Training of Rural Surplus Laborers for What are Most Likely Involuntary Labor Assignments

6.1 Flow 2 Policy Overview

The government has detailed plans and quotas for the “training for the purpose of changing employment” (转移就业技能培训) of “poor household labor” (贫困家庭劳动力).[59] This training must follow a standardized scheme that includes “gratefulness to the party education”, law, Chinese language, work discipline and military drills. All “rural surplus laborers” (农村富余劳动力), meaning those who do not have a “formal” or long-term wage labor contract but rely on a mix of farming and odd jobs, must go through this training before getting employment.[60] Companies can implement this training themselves or else have it implemented by local training institutions such as vocational schools.

Overall, the process of Xinjiang’s “industry-based poverty alleviation” follows this basic flow scheme that also indicates the highly schematic and essentially involuntary nature of state-mandated poverty alleviation (see figures 3 to 7 for a visual impression of what this often looks like in reality):

“Train a person, send off a person, employ a person, rescue a household from poverty” (培训一人,输出一人;就业一人,脱贫一户).[61]

6.2 Centralized Training Contents and Context

A more detailed implementation document regarding this type of vocational skills training for the general rural population was published by Kashgar Prefecture. [62] The document states that in order to overcome existing problems with discipline, thinking and perception, (Chinese) language communication abilities and employment skills, the prefecture will organize centralized training that includes military discipline, thought education, skills training and language study. The military training phase must last at least one month. It includes singing red songs and is intended to increase the workers’ organizational discipline and to “develop standardized behavior” (行为规范养成). Thought education (思想教育), including “gratefulness to the Party education”, is implemented in order to strengthen laborers’ resistance against extremist religious thought. Overall, the skills training is to take place in three phases: military drill, thought education, and lastly skills training, with Chinese language teaching being implemented throughout all of them. This system shares many similarities with the re-education performed in VTICs.

Figure 3: Rural surplus laborers from Yumin County are being sent to textile factory work in Shawan County after having gone through centralized skills training.[63]

Figure 4: Rural surplus laborers from Hotan are being transferred to work in Alar City, a Han Chinese settlement.[64]

Specifically, a document outlining the government’s 5 year plan for 2016-2020 for the textile and garment industry in Aksu Prefecture states that this industry’s labor needs are to be met by putting laborers through centralized classes and then centralized employment, teaching them legal regulations, Chinese language, work discipline, military drills and production safety. [65] In this process, their work attitude is to be changed from “I am wanted to work” to “I want to work” (“要我干”转变为现在的“我要干”). Another document discusses the establishment of centralized training centers (技能培训中心), capable of housing 1,200 vocational training students, who are trained, fed and housed (in dormitories) in a centralized and standardized fashion.[66] Both the context and the terminology of this skills training indicates that it is most likely not part of the VTIC or wider internment camp network. However, it is clear that the general setup and infrastructure of this type of general skills training for rural surplus laborers is not all that different from the region’s internment camp system.

Figure 5: 442 rural surplus laborers from Kashgar and Hotan are sent off to work in an industrial park in Korla in a “centralized fashion”.[67]

Figure 6: 442 rural surplus laborers from Kashgar and Hotan, Xinjiang China, are sent off to work in an industrial park in Korla in a “centralized fashion”. [67]

Figure 7: Rural surplus laborers from Moyu County are sent off to industrial labor in a “centralized”, unified fashion (统一输送) .[68]

6.3 Flow 2 Case Study: Eagle Textile Company

A pertinent example of the involuntary nature and intensive indoctrination components of the flow 2 scheme comes from “Eagle Textile Company” (雄鹰纺织公司), a firm set up in 2017 in Yarkant County as part of the Shanghai Xinjiang Mutual Pairing Assistance scheme (上海援疆).[69] In 2018, the company sent 122 surplus rural laborers to Qingdao (Shandong Province) for job training. These workers then returned to Yarkand to work in the company’s textile factory. Currently, the company employs more than 400 local Uyghurs, including 250 from especially poor families.

In order to “ensure the normal operation of the production line”, Eagle Textile states that it has a “semi-military” management. The employees are living and working in the factory and can go home for one day per week. However, the company states that the “comprehensive living facilities” in the factory mean that many employees treat the factory “as their home”. In the workshops, “inspiring corporate slogans” can be seen “everywhere”, and the workers can hear “Chinese songs carefully selected by Hong Longzhu, the head of the company”. Every morning, all workers collectively participate in “morning exercises”, and during the rest day, they will supposedly “spontaneously gather to learn Chinese”. This indicates a high degree of control and mandatory structure over their personal lives.

Mr. Hong proudly told his interviewer that thought transformation is part and parcel of the employment process. In his words, some employees still had a mindset on perennially ​​relying on government subsidies: “they lacked the enthusiasm for labor and their awareness of making money was not strong.” However, after “more than a year of subtle influence” and the employment training in Qingdao, Mr. Hong claims that “the majority of employees in the factory have understood that they must use their hard work to create a happy life”.

6.4 Flow 2 Conclusions

Overall, the author suggests that Xinjiang’s employment scheme for rural surplus laborers outside the internment system contains a significant amount of involuntary aspects. It is unclear whether this form of employment is in fact much more voluntary than that of VTIC graduates.

A major concern is the fact that labor from flows 1 and 2 are being combined, making it virtually impossible to distinguish labor involving higher coercion from that potentially involving less coercion. For example, graduates from vocational internment camps and transferred laborers both work at the Kashgar Shenzhen Industrial Park (喀什深圳产业园), although they may work at different factories .[70] Rather than keeping VTIC and non-VTIC workers strictly separate, the region’s goal certainly appears to flexibly integrate them, especially once these former VTIC detainees are considered safe to work in regular work environments without extra police protection. Obviously, any of these work environments will still feature the usual surveillance and securitization features that are increasingly found in any facility in Xinjiang. This includes camera systems, security guards and other preventative measures.

7.0 Flow 3: Promoting Universal Factory Labor Through Village-Based Satellite Factories

7.1 Flow 3 Policy Overview

The probably most intrusive social re-engineering of Uyghur and other Turkic minority societies in Xinjiang is achieved by what is called “sending work to people’s doorstep” (送工作到家门口). These so-called satellite factories may, in the long term, have the most pervasive and destructive impact on Uyghur society.

The degree of involuntariness of this form of labor is the most complex. On the one hand, village work teams “encourage” women to enter full-time factory work through various means, including changing their “thinking”. This arguably represents a form of involuntary labor, but direct evidence of coercion, such as based on formalized or centralized trainings, is weaker than for flows 1 or 2.

However, the satellite factory scheme is at times closely linked  to VTIC labor (flow 1). Both Xinhua and the government website Chinapeace bluntly state that Kashgar and Hotan Prefectures have established preferential policies designed to attract the construction of satellite factories in order to “help VTIC graduates find employment”.[71] As stated above under “flow 1”, it appears that satellite factories are one of the possible final destinations of VTIC detainees in order to “re-integrate” them into society. Direct evidence of the local implementation of this policy comes from detailed poverty alleviation planning spreadsheets. Luntai County’s (Bayingolin Prefecture) 2018 poverty alleviation plan budgeted for the construction of two satellite factories to provide employment for 69 households.[72] This project was to be implemented in direct cooperation with the county VTIC employment training base satellite factory (县职业技能教育培训中心实训基地卫星工厂).

According to a government document that originated from the United Front website, “fine-grained poverty alleviation” in Xinjiang involves the construction of one satellite factory for every two villages. [73] By 2020, Kashgar Prefecture plans to nearly double the number of its satellite factories from 490 to 792, covering at least 70 percent of impoverished villages and creating jobs for over 60,000 poor households.[74] Similarly, Lop County in Hotan Prefecture expected to increase satellite factory employment from 2,630 in mid-2018 to 20,000 in 2020.[75] The scalability of these massive undertakings is ensured through highly standardized factory designs and unified management procedures. Similar to the VTIC plus model, companies from other parts of China receive a government subsidy for each satellite factory worker they train. While the training of a VTIC detainee only yields 1,800 RMB, companies receive 2,400 RMB per trained satellite factory worker.[76]

7.2 Satellite Factories as Spearheads of Socio-Cultural Transformations

Specifically, the satellite factory drive is designed to bring work opportunities to those who are typically unable to leave the village in order to take up non-rural or non-farming jobs. This particularly applies to women responsible for caring for children and elderly family members. Numerous government documents testify to this fact and indicate that this campaign involves a great deal of “thought transformation” in order to convince women to participate. For example:

“We must make overall efforts to promote stability and poverty alleviation, so that farmers can be freed from their small amount of land, and go into satellite factories and enterprises for employment. We must take care of the “empty nest” old people, leverage the role of nursery schools and kindergartens to solve the worries of the employed people. … Strengthen national language education and skills training, organize poor households to visit and study, and enable them to broaden their horizons, change their concepts, and stimulate their inner motivation. [77]

Another document similarly boasts how satellite factories liberate women and combat extremism at the same time, leading Uyghur women into an acceptance of “modern culture”,

“The construction of satellite factories enables many women to accept a modern enterprise culture, to obey the company management, [causing them to change from] passivity to active acceptance. Wearing work clothes has become a normal behavior for industrial workers. This is at the same time loosening the grip of extremism, letting women walk out of the courtyard [i.e. traditional household duties] and integrate into modern economic and social life”.[78]

Numerous other documents talk about the need to “transform the thinking of women, let more of them leave the home, enter factories, increase incomes.”[79] Notably, the satellite factories implement very similar training contents as the VTICs and flow 2 training facilities. Guangzhou’s pairing assistance teams established five types of activities for the workers of the village satellite factory: gratefulness to the party, national language study, skills training, studying the law, and “promote new styles”.[80] A report published by Xinjiang’s agricultural department bluntly argues that the satellite factory drive spearheads a major rural transformation effort through which “thinking experiences major transformations, and traditional customs are being secularized”.[81]

7.3 Satellite Factories Promote Intergenerational Separation

Naturally, many women will not suddenly want to put their little children in state-run day care or their elderly ones in centralized elderly care. Consequently, government reports abound with the “success stories” of village work teams, who ceaselessly visit resistant families until they “agree” to work. Often, this is said to require to “transform the thinking of [the elderly] parents” until they “agree” to let their daughter go to work.[82]

Once people are put to work, they have entered state-controlled environments that may feature different degrees of security. Government procurement bids for rural satellite factories in Uyghur majority regions include security fences, surveillance systems and metal detectors.[83]

The perhaps most disturbing aspect of “poverty alleviation” through rural satellite factories is that it promotes a significant degree of separation of children from their parents – at least during the work days. The establishment of satellite factories invariably involves the construction of dedicated nurseries for children below the preschool age, often in the factories themselves. For example, a report about Lop County states that a particular village’s satellite factories all have nurseries for children aged 0 to 4 years where children “eat and live”, so that the women can “work without having to worry”. [84] Similar reports are found for many other minority regions. These nurseries, at times even referred to as “infant care” (婴幼儿管护), appear to play a key role for promoting women to take up factory work. [85]

One county even refers to this scheme as the “nurseries plus satellite factory model” (“幼儿托管+卫星工厂”模式). [86] The local village work team discovered that the village has 113 women with children who are too young to attend preschool. According to the report, these women are therefore “bound to the homes” and cannot go out to work. The solution was the establishment of factory nurseries, which in this particular case accept children from age 1 years and up.

A shocking example of this “liberation” of women from their children and homes comes from a village under the administration of Hotan City. There, one family has a mother with three young children, the youngest being only 13 months old, and a father who is already away due to working outside the village. [87] The report states that because the village factory has a nursery, she can now go to work. The report cites the mother as saying: “[This] solved my problem, now there are people who take care of my children, I can in peace go to work, … very convenient.” (Figure 8). However, what is being praised as progress and development is arguably an example of increasing family separation, intrusive social control, and more than likely some form of involuntary labor.

Figure 8. The small children (toddlers) of a mother of three are being kept in a nursery while the mother is being put to work in a village satellite factory.

8.0 Funding From Xinjiang’s Mutual Pairing Assistance Scheme (援疆)

Particularly problematic is the fact that much of the funding for VTIC factories, industrial parks where VTIC and non-VTIC persons work, and many of the new satellite factories, is disbursed through the mutual pairing assistance scheme. [88] Eastern Chinese cities and provinces are incentivizing their local corporations to participate in Xinjiang’s low-skilled, labor-intensive manufacturing drive, and in doing so to further their patriotic duty to promote China’s BRI. Government figures show that in 2018, the total pairing assistance investment into Xinjiang amounted to 16 billion RMB.[89] In 2017, this investment stood at 15.2 billion RMB and created jobs for 500,000 surplus laborers.[90] Both of these figures represented a marked increase from the 97.4 million RMB invested through the pairing assistance scheme in 2016.[91]

For example, Shanghai’s pairing assistance funded the construction of 382 satellite factories in four minority counties, involving 237 companies and 12,800 new jobs (in 2018). [92]

In a number of instances, mutual pairing assistance moneys directly promote forced labor. A Xinjiang government report describing the Guangdong Pairing Assistance Project (广东省援疆项目) noted that Guangdong Province invested 1.85 billion RMB in Xinjiang in 2018. [93] The report states that because there are many “VTIC persons in re-education” (教培转化人员) who need employment, the Guangdong companies who participate in the pairing assistance project with Xinjiang will establish satellite factories in the VTIC, so that more students there can become self-sufficient. The plan is to provide 3,000 such jobs.

A more specific example of how the Xinjiang mutual pairing assistance program directly supports forced detainee labor under the guise of “poverty alleviation” and “development” comes from a company from Zhejiang Province, called Zhejiang Zhuji Keshang (浙江诸暨客商). This company invested 180 million RMB to establish the Xinjiang Hengrui Textile Company (天山恒瑞纺织有限公司) with an annual production capacity of 6 million sweaters. It adopted the “industrial park plus VTIC plus satellite factory model”, constructing two standardized factories with a combined floor space of 12,000sqm that provide work for 1,100 persons. From January to May 2018, Zhejiang mutual pairing assistance projects involved a total investment of 959 million RMB and established 148 factories.[94]

Another, similar example is the Jinfuyuan garment factory (金福源纺织厂) in Kashgar’s Tashkorgan County. Set up by a company from Shenzhen through the mutual pairing assistance scheme, it can produce over a million items of clothing per year, which are exported to Europe.[95] This factory is showcased on a government website that praises the benefits of VTICs for de-extremification and combating terrorism.

Even if not all of these initiatives followed the “VTIC plus” model and involve VTIC detainee factory labor, it is evident that these 19 cities and provinces are spending billions of RMB in order to facilitate different forms of coerced labor throughout Xinjiang’s Turkic minority regions.

9.0 Flow 1-3 Case Study: The Aksu Huafu Color Spinning Corporation

9.1 Overview

Aksu Prefecture’s Huafu Color Spinning Corporation (阿克苏华孚色纺有限公司) is the world’s largest manufacturer and supplier of dyed yarn. Huafu’s headquarters are in Shenzhen. The corporation has several registered entities in Xinjiang, with the Aksu branch boasting a registered capital of nearly 1.1 billion RMB.[96] Since 2017, Huafu has been investing 2.5 billion RMB to expand its manufacturing capacity in Xinjiang to one million yarn spindles annually, adding 369,115sqm of commercial floor space.[97]Through its various subsidiaries, Huafu controls the entire production process from cotton planting to harvesting to ginning to the manufacturing of textiles and garments.[98] To this end, the company set up 100 cotton ginning factories to process the raw cotton grown on its 13,180 acres of cotton fields.[99]

Generally, Xinjiang is China’s largest cotton growing area. In 2018, the region saw an 11.9 percent jump in its total cotton output, accounting for 83.8 percent of the national total output that year, up 3 percentage points from 2017.[100]

Huafu features prominently in Aksu government document about the massive expansion of textile industry and vocational training. The company can be directly linked to flow schemes 2 and 3, and closely cooperates with Xinjiang’s poverty alleviation policies. For 2017-18, it was awarded the title “advanced textile production poverty alleviation work unit”.[101] In one of its statements, the company writes that “Huafu will continue to respond to the call of the country for fine-grained poverty alleviation [精准扶贫], and will continue to contribute the company’s entire forces to … industrial poverty alleviation [产业扶贫].”[102] A Xinhua report notes that the company specializes in the recruitment of minority rural surplus laborers for labor-intensive industries, with over 90 percent of workers being minorities.[103] Consequently, Huafu engages in regular Chinese language training and vocational training in order to transform the minorities into “modern industrial workers”.

9.2 Huafu and Flow 1 Labor

Huafu’s involvement with flow 1 (VTIC) labor is only anecdotal, but even the little information available raises some very important red flags. A Wall Street Journal report from May 2019 states:

“In one interview near the Huafu mill, with officials hovering nearby, 20-year-old Subinur Ghojam and a co-worker said they had come to the factory from a training program. “Before I used to have extremist thoughts, but now they’re all gone,” Ms. Ghojam said. After she was heard telling a reporter she had been in a training center, officials took her into a room in an adjacent restaurant. She then returned and said, “They say it’s secret. Even speaking of it is not allowed.”[104]

While most of the other evidence pertains to flow 2 and 3 labor, this incident supports the author’s argument that labor from all three flow schemes is mixing and mingling in Xinjiang’s complex employment context.

9.3 Huafu and Flow 2 Labor

Evidence of Huafu’s active involvement of flow 2 labor is readily available. The company’s own website describes the opening ceremony of its 2017 “winter and spring industrial worker employment training” (今冬明春产业工人就业培训). It shows 600 trainee workers dressed in military uniforms singing patriotic songs and standing under banners extolling the “love of the motherland” (Figure 9).[105] The text states that:

“Due to lack of information, a lack of courage, and a fear of going out, a large number of rural surplus laborers are idle at home, which increases the burden on their families and brings hidden dangers to public security. Aksu Huafu actively engaged with government departments, actively absorbed surplus labor, and organized teachers to provide them with paid training to gradually transform them from farmers to industrial workers.”

Figure 9: female ethnic minority trainees in military uniforms at the opening ceremony of the 2017 employment training. Source: Huafu Company page.

A Chinese news website clarifies that this very training program was in a wider Aksu Prefecture initiative that trained 3,200 rural workers as part of a poverty alleviation campaign.[106] In this centralized training initiative, the trainees were placed into unified training groups and dormitories in order to then be “sent off to companies in a unified fashion.” The training itself consisted of military drill, thought transformation, national language education, studying the law, de-extremification and basic hygiene. Every detail of this initiative corresponds to involuntary flow 2 training and employment outlined above.

Huafu’s ongoing in-house training continues to heavily indoctrinate minority laborers after their initial centralized employment training period. Dancing and singing performances that prominently feature “gratefulness to the Party” and “hotly loving the Party” are part and parcel of its company culture in Xinjiang.[107]

Another company news report shows pictures of company propaganda sessions with minority women, and describes the oath that the workers are made to swear:

“‘I am a citizen of the People’s Republic of China. I firmly support the leadership of the Communist Party of China, consciously abide by the Constitution and laws, strictly abide by political discipline and political rules, and always follow the line of the Party Central Committee…’.

The employees made fists in their right hands and solemnly swore. With the gradual of Aksu Huafu’s one million spindles, more and more ethnic minority employees have become a member of Huafu. Ensuring the stability of the workforce is an important responsibility of the factory. In this regard, the factory leaders attach great importance to it. In batches, all employees without fail [are subjected to political] education, oaths, and written and oral reports, so that employees can establish correct values and realize the value of their own life in the Huafu family.”[108]

9.4 Huafu and Flow 3 Labor

Evidence for Huafu’s involvement in flow 3 labor is likewise abundant and detailed. By 2018, the company had 60 satellite factories and is prominently featured in a key document outlining Aksu Prefecture’s VTIC plus and satellite factory employment and poverty alleviation scheme.[109] Within this, Huafu’s participation is described as following the “head office plus satellite factory” model (总部+卫星工厂).

Detailed local development plans published by the Uqturpan (Wushi) County government show Huafu as the designated company for operating 11 of the 20 satellite factories that the government scheduled to build in 2018.[110] The construction expenditures, totaling 25.9 million RMB, came from central government poverty alleviation funds, with a targeted employment creation for 1,585 poor households. All satellite factories were to have surrounding walls and nurseries, covering an area of 750 to 1,400sqm each.

9.5 Huafu’s Financial Benefits from Cooperating with State Policies

Such close cooperation with the government pays off. An article published by China’s Agriculture, Farmer and Rural Area Information Management Committee notes that Huafu and other textile makers in Aksu benefit from an extremely comprehensive subsidy scheme: factory subsidies, employee social security subsidies, pre-employment training subsidies, new employment subsidies, mainland talent introduction subsidies, and shipping subsidies.[111] Huafu’s 2018 financial report states that the entire corporation received 532.8 million RMB in different government subsidies that year, about 426 million RMB of them for its operations in Xinjiang.[112] The single largest subsidy, totaling 102 million RMB, came from the Aksu regional government. Just for shipping its products outside of Xinjiang, Huafu received 125 million RMB in related transport subsidies.

Overall, the Huafu case study shows how Beijing is attracting Chinese corporations to Xinjiang that can be among the largest in their fields worldwide. By cooperating with relevant government policies in regards to training and employing minority labor, they can reap hundreds of millions of RMB in subsidies, operate satellite factories that are built and paid for by the government, and benefit from low minority labor costs. Xinjiang, Beijing’s declared “core region” (核心区) of the BRI, will gradually transition from hosting the world’s largest minority internment campaign to being home to the world’s most exploitative labor regimes. In this devious scheme, minority repression and multi-million dollar profits go hand-in-hand.

9.6 Huafu and the Ethnics of Foreign Business Involvement

Due to its size, Huafu naturally has significant dealings with international textile and garment makers. One of them is the German company Adidas. In response to media reports, Adidas audited Huafu’s spinning facilities in Aksu and found “no evidence of forced labor, or of government involvement in the hiring of their workforce.”[113] However, Chinese media outlets cite Peng Xianjin, Huafu’s staff training and development manager, as openly saying that “the local government sends us workers according to [our] company’s staffing needs.”[114] A report from the Aksu government propaganda bureau confirms that the prefecture trains and then sends Uyghur workers to Huafu, implementing “different types of training courses” in the process.[115]

Similar issues prevail with the policies of another global garment maker, H+M. After investigating forced labor allegations, H+M decided to continue to procure yarn from Huafu as long as it does not come from yarn mills located in Xinjiang. Here, the company runs into the problem that Xinjiang exports involuntary labor through the mutual pairing assistance scheme, which involves extensive, state-mandated labor transfers. For example, government reports state that Guma (Pishan) County in Xinjiang alone sent 103 rural minority surplus laborers to Huafu’s factory in Anhui province.[116] In 2017, Huafu itself “sent” 2000 “poor persons” from the minority regions of Kashgar and Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture to work and receive training in its eastern Chinese factories.[117]

9.7 Huafu and the Wider Xinjiang Involuntary Labor Issue

Is Huafu involved in forced labor? At the very least, it is heavily implicated in a wider scheme of involuntary servitude, which constitutes a form of human trafficking. The case of this company exemplifies the fact that traditional approaches of identifying specific instances of forced labor do not work for Xinjiang. In the vast majority of cases, such evidence will never be directly available. The ongoing intertwining of different forms of involuntary  training and labor, and the level of control the Communist Party exerts over companies, renders such fact-finding missions even more futile. The only viable solution is to consider the entire region to be thoroughly tainted with different forms of coercive labor. This means that nothing made in whole or in part with products from Xinjiang should have any place in an ethically clean supply chain.

10.0 Conclusion: Ethical Implications for Global Supply Chains

Xinjiang’s multi-layered schemes of forced or at least involuntary labor, and the increasing blending of VTIC and non-VTIC labor, have major implications for global supply chains.

Xinjiang is the designated core region of the BRI, with ambitious future production targets for textile and garment production, along with other labor-intensive manufacturing products. Through substantial subsidies, the government is attracting major companies to establish factories in the region. Often, this takes places through the pairing assistance scheme, whereby major eastern provinces such as Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangsu etc. encourage their corporations to establish branches in Xinjiang. Conversely, minority workers are being sent to these corporations’ factories in the east. This creates close linkages between products made with forced (or at least involuntary) labor performed by ethnic groups from Xinjiang and the entire domestic Chinese market.

Before long, it will be up to Chinese companies, and to China as a whole nation, to prove to other countries that their exported products do not involve any form of coerced ethnic minority labor. Until Xinjiang’s extrajudicial internment camp network and related factories are fully shut down, and all forms of skills training and related employment in the region are made completely voluntary, this will be difficult or impossible to prove. Meanwhile, western and other foreign companies must fully divest their supply chains not only from Xinjiang, but also from Chinese companies with significant operations in that region.

Adrian Zenz is a Senior Fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, Washington, D.C. (non-resident), and supervises PhD students at the European School of Culture and Theology, Korntal, Germany. He specializes in China’s ethnic minority policy, minority education systems, public recruitment (especially teacher and police/security-related recruitment), public bid documentation, domestic security budgets and securitization practices in China’s Tibetan regions and Xinjiang. He has authored Tibetanness under Threat (Global Oriental, 2013) and co-edited Mapping Amdo: Dynamics of Change (Prague: Oriental Institute, 2017).

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Last updated: April 9, 2021