Some of Taiwan’s manufacturing giants and best-known brands found themselves in the international spotlight this week, and not for a good reason.
Hon Hai Precision Industry Co — known internationally as Foxconn Technology Group — Acer, Asustek Computer and HTC Corp were among the 83 companies named as “directly or indirectly benefiting” from China’s deployment of tens of thousands of Uighurs as forced labor in 27 factories in nine provinces from 2017 to last year, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said in a report, titled Uyghurs For Sale, released on Sunday.
More than 80,000 Uighurs were moved from the Xinjiang region to work in the factories, where they were barred from leaving to visit family or practicing their religion, and needed to take ideology and Mandarin classes outside of working hours, the report said, adding that the number was a conservative estimate and that the real figure is likely much higher.
Foxconn has been an active participant in Beijing’s “Xinjiang Aid” scheme, which aims to assign work to “idle” Uighurs in the name of poverty alleviation and help Sinicize them by reforming their “backward qualities,” the report said, adding that Uighurs had been employed at the firm’s giant Zhengzhou factory in Henan Province.
The institute’s report is the latest in a line of investigations by rights groups, The Associated Press, the BBC and other media outlets into the abuse of Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, but that did not stop the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday from slamming the report’s “lack of factual basis” as a bid to smear China’s “efforts to oppose terrorism and fight extremism.”
China had said that it was transferring “surplus” labor out of Xinjiang as part of poverty alleviation efforts, but when deciding who to believe, companies that source products from the manufacturers and contractors named in the report — and consumers — should not accept Beijing’s version of reality.
The report’s authors urge the companies cited to conduct immediate and thorough human rights due diligence of their factory labor, and protect Uighurs and other workers from involuntary transfers and other punishments — and for consumers and consumer advocacy groups to demand that they do so.
Given Foxconn’s poor track record when it comes to workers’ rights and labor abuses, as documented by the US-based China Labor Watch and other groups, its involvement in questionable employment of Uighurs from Xinjiang should surprise no one.
A decade ago, the firm came under intense pressure from customers, rights groups and consumers after a wave of employee suicides at its Chinese plants.
While Foxconn — along with Asustek, Acer and HTC — should face similar condemnation from customers and consumers for using forced Uighur labor, they should worry about actions by the US and other governments. The report said that companies using forced Uighur labor in their supply chains could find themselves at risk of bans that prohibit the import of goods made with forced labor, or that mandate the disclosure of such supply-chain risks.
In October last year, the US Department of Commerce added eight Chinese tech firms to its Entity List for their role in enabling human rights violations against Muslims in China, including Uighurs and Kazakhs.
Companies and organizations on the list have to apply for additional licenses if they want to buy from US suppliers, and approval is difficult to obtain, which is why the US government is using the list as part of its efforts to restrict Huawei Technologies Co.
Given the financial pressures that Foxconn et al are facing as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, and the ensuing disruption to international supply chains and production schedules, such penalties are the last thing they need.
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