Many or most products made in China that rely at least in part on low-skilled, labour-intensive manufacturing can contain elements of involuntary ethnic minority labour from Xinjiang. The United Nations estimate from last year, around 1 million Uyghus are being forcibly held in the re-education camps in Xinjiang. This provides a huge supply of forced labour to the companies in Xinjiang. Inside the “vocational training centres”, the detainees are forced to work for producing garments, carpets, cleaning supplies, and other goods for domestic and international distribution. However, there is evidence showing that part of the detainees had already their own jobs, some were even successful businessmen.
Many multinational companies are expanding their business to China neglecting the abuse of human rights in the country, or even taking advantage of the corrupted system. China is the biggest trading partner of Germany and many German enterprises have set up their joint ventures with state-owned companies in China. The Volkswagen group has opened a plant in Xinjiang in 2013, which is within 90-minutes drive from four detention camps. However, the CEO Herbert Diess claimed that he was not informed of such mass detention.
Indeed, nearly half of the top 150 European enterprises have business in Xinjiang. Siemens collaborates with a Chinese state-owned military contractor, which has developed a police app in Xinjiang leading some Uyghurs sent to detention camps. Some enterprises even take part in the bribery game in China. From 2003 to 2013, Deutsche Bank has employed different family members of Chinese leaders to get its way to China, as it should be, they didn’t forget to send luxury gifts to Chinese leaders to win the deals.
The utilitarian mindset of making deals with evil has removed the obstacles for CPC to keep suppressing human rights.
Human rights should not be given a lower priority compared to other social concerns. The rising trend of veganism and fair-trade shows consumers’ increasing awareness of production ethics in Germany. People demand a greater transparency on the production chain of the daily products they buy, as they want to ensure neither animal rights nor the environment are harmed by their consumption behaviours. The story of Xinjiang should remind people in Europe: the history of totalitarian rule is not yet over. There are still people - a whole race indeed - who have no chance to retire and spend their first trip in the US.