The UN’s top expert on slavery provoked a fierce response from Beijing this week after saying in a report that it is reasonable to conclude that members of minority groups in China’s western Xinjiang region have been subjected to forced labor.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Tomoya Obokata, said in the report he shared on his Twitter account on Tuesday that he based his findings on an independent assessment of available information.
Dated July 19, the publicly available report which can be found in a UN documents library says that members of Uighur, Kazakh, and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China have been pushed into forced labor in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing.
The report says there are two distinct “state-mandated” systems in Xinjiang – a vocational skills education and training center system – where minorities are detained and subjected to work placements.
The 20-page report, which also covered contemporary slavery-related issues and concerns in other countries, has established poverty alleviation through a labor transfer system involving rural workers.
The Special Rapporteur Obokata considers that in many cases, indicators of forced labor have been present pointing to the involuntary nature of work rendered by affected communities despite the Chinese government’s claims that these programs may create employment opportunities for minorities and enhance their incomes.
China’s foreign ministry heavily criticized the report’s findings on Wednesday, defending China’s record on protecting workers’ rights and reiterating Beijing’s denial that there had ever been forced labor in Xinjiang.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin noted in his statement for the media that Obokata has chosen to believe in lies and disinformation about Xinjiang spread by anti-China forces such as the US and some other Western countries.
There’s another highly anticipated report on human rights in Xinjiang that is being prepared by United Nations High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, who has pledged to publish it before leaving office at the end of this month despite Beijing’s efforts to stop her from releasing it.