Inside China’s Push to Turn Muslim Minorities Into an Army of WorkersDecember 30, 2019
The order from Chinese officials was blunt and urgent. Villagers from Muslim minorities should be pushed into jobs, willing or not. Quotas would be set and families penalized if they refused to go along.
“Make people who are hard to employ renounce their selfish ideas,” the labor bureau of Qapqal, a county in the western region of Xinjiang, said in the directive last year.
Such orders are part of an aggressive campaign to remold Xinjiang’s Muslim minorities — mostly Uighurs and Kazakhs — into an army of workers for factories and other big employers. Under pressure from the authorities, poor farmers, small traders and idle villagers of working age attend training and indoctrination courses for weeks or months, and are then assigned to stitch clothes, make shoes, sweep streets or fill other jobs.
The government maintains that the Uighur and Kazakh villagers are “rural surplus labor” and are an underemployed population that threatens social stability. Putting them in steady, supervised government-approved work, officials say, will erase poverty and slow the spread of religious extremism and ethnic violence.
The government describes the laborers as volunteers, though critics say they are clearly coerced. Official documents, interviews with experts, and visits by The New York Times to Xinjiang indicate that local plans uproot villagers, restrict their movements and pressure them to stay at jobs.
Experts say those harsh methods can amount to forced labor, potentially tainting the global supply chain that uses Xinjiang workers, particularly for cotton goods.