Making Xinjiang Sanctions Work

In Episode 4, James speaks with Chloe Cranston, Business and Human Rights Manager at Anti-Slavery International. James asks Chloe about what companies are doing in response to allegations of Xinjiang forced labour, and we hear about a new initiative in Brussels to prevent goods made with forced labour entering the European market.


James Cockayne  0:00  

Welcome to Xinjiang Sanctions, a podcast looking at the global response to forced labour in Xinjiang, China. I'm James Cockayne, a Professor of Global Politics and Anti-Slavery at the University of Nottingham. I've been working on modern slavery and forced labour issues for the last decade and researching Xinjiang forced labour for the last year. You can see the results of that research at In this short podcast series, I speak with global experts to understand why forced labour emerged in Xinjiang and what governments and business are doing to try to address it. I'm pleased to be joined on this episode by Chloe Cranston, Business and Human Rights Manager at Anti-Slavery International. Welcome, Chloe. 

Chloe Cranston  0:44  

Hi, James. Thanks for having me. 

James Cockayne  0:46  

Tell us about Anti-Slavery International Chloe.

Chloe Cranston  0:48  

So Anti-Slavery International is considered the world's oldest human rights organisation. It was set up over 180 years ago as part of the original abolitionist movement. And it's worked all through that time in one form or another. And we now work to end contemporary forms of slavery. And we have four strategic themes which are: responsible business (which I manage), climate change in modern slavery, migration & trafficking and child slavery.

James Cockayne  1:17  

So almost two centuries of expertise then in fighting slavery and forced labour. Recently, Anti-Slavery International has helped mobilise an effort responding to Xinjiang forced labour. Can you tell us about that?

Chloe Cranston  1:29  

Yes. So we co-founded something called the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region. And that coalition came about towards the end of 2019, the beginning of 2020. And essentially what happened there is various groups, labour rights groups, investors, anti-slavery groups, human rights groups, which have focused heavily for decades, on how the fashion industry is tainted with human rights abuses, complicit in human rights abuses. They we increasingly saw all the evidence that the fashion industry was directly tied to the forced labour of Uyghurs. And at the same time, obviously, and evidently, the Uyghur community was watching in horror as the fashion industry was failing to take action. So what we had was essentially, a group of us came together with this common objective, to unite to end the state's imposed forced labour and other human rights abuses against Uyghurs. And it's not only Uyghurs, it’s other Turkic and Muslim majority peoples in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. So we united and brought brought these groups together with this common cause. And I would say, you know, arguably, it is one of the biggest formalised human rights movements now in recent times. So the coalition is now supported by over 400 organisations, and that's faith based organisations, investors, as I said, many human rights and human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, in over 40 countries. So really a worldwide movement, and we have various focus areas. One is we're calling for companies to exit the Uyghur region. For governments and institutions such as the UN and the ILO to put pressure on the Chinese government, ultimately, to end the forced labour in the Uyghur region.

James Cockayne  3:16  

So as you mentioned, one of the key things the coalition has done is issue a call to action to companies to exit the Uyghur region. Are they listening?

Chloe Cranston  3:25  

So I would definitely say yes, so we publicly launched the coalition in July 2020. And when we launched that call to action companies, and we were initially focused on the fashion industry, our focus has obviously expanded looking at solar looking at agriculture, at PVC, all the other industries. But initially, we were focused on fashion. And when we first launched it, we were doing extensive private engagement with many, many leading companies in the fashion industry. And honestly, many companies really did not understand the scale to which they were exposed to Uyghur forced labour across their supply chains. So how I would explain that is many were looking at it solely in terms of their direct business relationships in the region. So did they have a tier one supplier in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and at that time, some companies still did, I think that has very much significantly changed in the past two and a half years. So many of it, we're looking at really just these direct business relationships, but the exposure was much more complex. And this is what we laid out in our call to action. It's about direct business relationships, it’s about wherever companies are in financial relationships with a facility say elsewhere in China or even elsewhere in the world, the parent company of which is involved in supporting the Uyghur forced labour systems and that’s still being in a financial relationship with a complicit company. Then in early 2020, we had the expose about the forced transfers of Uyghurs from the region to elsewhere in China. So that was also part of how it was tainting supply chains. And then obviously the sourcing of goods. So cotton and yarn and if we are talking about other sectors, you know, polysilicon, PVC, and so on. So we really set out in these kind of the way I have said it, it's kind of four different ways that companies were very, very exposed in their supply chain. I'm not even speaking about the value chain side, which is obviously be about exporting goods and services to the region. And so by setting out those four areas that you know, what we did is we definitely set the bar. We know that companies took the steps we demanded, we know that companies were taking these, really understanding these different layers of how they could be exposed. And even if companies weren't being public about it, a year on many of the leading companies that we were engaging with, we know were taking these steps. And crucially now, and I know you probably want to talk about this, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in the US essentially makes our call to action binding law. And what that shows is companies can't be completely complicit in Uyghur forced labour, not even if it's just a small part of their supply chain.

James Cockayne  6:09  

You mentioned the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. Was the Coalition involved in its, its development?

Chloe Cranston  6:15  

Yes, of course, so many, there's many, many US based organisations in the coalition. And those organisations did a huge amount of work to advocate for the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, and also to push it forward when it was stalling. 

James Cockayne  6:29  

So as you've explained that that law, in a way makes mandatory some of the things that you are calling on business to do. Which of the steps that business now have to undertake as a result of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, do you see as having the most impact?

Chloe Cranston  6:45  

So you know ultimately what the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act does is it makes it that companies cannot source anything from the Uyghur region, essentially, because there's this rebuttable presumption and only if the company can prove it wasn't made with forced labour would they be able to import it into the United States. However, the crux of it is, and this was really the basis of our call to action, is due to the levels of repression and surveillance and control in the region, no company can go there and actually meaningfully identify whether there is forced labour happening. And if they actually did, there's nothing they can do to prevent it, there's nothing they can do to mitigate it, and there's nothing they can do to remediate it, i.e. they cannot act in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. And that's, you know, was really seen as well, in September 2020, if I get my timelines, right, that many auditing companies, six auditing companies announced they would no longer audit in the region due to you know, the threats on auditors and so on. So with that, if we have this rebuttable presumption, the only way a company can import its goods into the United States now is if it can prove that none of the inputs in that good were made in the Uyghur region, because they are not reasonably going to be able to prove it was not made with forced labour. And that is, you know, what we need to see happening and that needs to, you know, put the pressure on the Chinese government to allow access to the region to allow for an enabling environment for human rights.

James Cockayne  8:17  

So you mentioned there Chloe that the situation in Xinjiang makes effective due diligence very difficult and you also mentioned that it makes remediation very difficult. So what can be expected in terms of remediation of the problems in the supply chain and also remedy to people who have been affected by these abuses?

Chloe Cranston  8:41  

So it's a really interesting question, remedy for victims of state imposed forced labour, which is what this is, is a really unexplored area. So this is not the only example of state imposed forced labour in supply chains we've had. There was decades of state imposed forced labour in Uzbekistan. That situation has now reformed we need to see more change happening in Uzbekistan still with labour rights, but that situation is reformed and we still have ongoing state imposed forced labour in cotton in Turkmenistan as well. However, in all these situations, whether we're talking about the previous situation in Uzbekistan or what we're looking at now the Uyghur region, the question of remedy is a big one, and honestly, I would say to any listeners that I personally believe there needs to be much more work done at international levels. To work out this - how do we ensure justice and remedy for victims of state imposed forced labour? One thing that we've discussed with companies is, when we're talking about the Uyghur situation, is donations to Uyghur refugees. So it's not possible to directly provide remedy to Uyghurs in the Uyghur region. As I said, there's no access their suppliers wouldn't be able to, there's just there's no meaningful route there. But there are you know, there are Uyghur refugees, for example, in Turkey that are desperate for support. And so companies can, you know, engage meaningfully with the global Uyghur community with representatives of these survivors, and engage with them to understand how they could possibly support some form of remediation there. But I personally think it's an area that needs a lot more focus on to consider what is the best route.

James Cockayne  10:26  

It's possible to imagine that companies might respond to that kind of ask by saying that they support in principle, but but don't see why they should carry the financial burden. And that that's really a state responsibility. Do you hear that kind of reaction? And how would you see that balance of responsibilities between states and business in enabling and providing remedy?

Chloe Cranston  10:47  

So when we're talking about state imposed forced labour, quite clearly, ultimately, the responsibility lies on the state. And when we talk about it long term, we would be looking at transitional justice, similar to what you look at when you have, you know, situations of conflict and so on. And quite clearly that falls in the responsibility of the state. However, the supply chain piece, the harsh reality is that companies have sourced from the Uyghur region, where they've sourced the product and that product has been made with Uyghur forced labour. When they identify it has been made Uyghur forced labour, what are they going to do? Are they going to sell it and make profits from crimes against humanity? Are they, even if they say repurpose it, and still make a loss, but there's still some money involved there? What are they going to do with that money? That is money that has been made off the backs of crimes against humanity and genocide committed against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim majority peoples. And so that money cannot sit in the pockets of companies. And so they do have a responsibility there to consider what they do. And there has been there is one case, for example, that is in the public space of a company that donated via a large human rights organisation to support Uyghur refugees. So that example has been set.

James Cockayne  12:10  

You make the point there that there that financial ties can create some difficult questions for for companies' – profits and other financial ties. There's been a lot of focus by policymakers recently on import bans. Have we seen any efforts to think through the role of investment and capital market controls?

Chloe Cranston  12:34  

There's also been attention on, for example, the role of the International Financial Corporation, which is found to be still shoring up investments of various facilities in the Uyghur region that are tied to Uyghur forced labour. And I think personally, I think the role of investment and export credits and so on is particularly crucial when we are looking at the solar industry. And how can the investment community come in in order to engage with the solar industry and urgently drive a redirection of their sourcing, so they are not sourcing from the Uyghur region, right, so, given the urgency of the transition to clean energy. So my personal view is on the investment industry and investors is a crucial, crucial role of the solar industry.

James Cockayne  13:23  

Now, just thinking a little bit beyond the United States, there's rightly a lot of focus on the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which has only been in force a few weeks at the time that we're recording this podcast. But last year, over the other side of the pond, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, committed the Commission to develop a forced labour instrument. And quite recently, the European Parliament has put its weight behind the idea, what can we expect on that side of the pond in this area?

Chloe Cranston  13:56  

So first, I would just say how hugely important it is that the European Union does introduce a strong law in this regard. What we have with the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act is something very, very strong. But the reality is, is that if a company has its product seized, it can re-export it to another market. The other reality is is that some companies in some industries where this is feasible, may be creating bifurcated supply chains, i.e, one so called clean supply chain for the United States so that they don't get caught up in the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act enforcement, and one so called tainted supply chain for the rest of the world. And those two facts together – the issue of bifurcated supply chains and the issue around re-export or trans-shipments – means that we really, really need to see other governments introduced comparable laws. So we very much welcome that the European Commission is developing this forced labour instrument. It’s not Uyghur forced labour specific but we of course, still welcome it. So what to expect? The, what we're currently hearing is it should come in September, it should be announced in September as to be in the year anniversary of when President von der Leyen first announced that this would happen. We know the European Commission wants to design a law that applies both to domestic products, i.e. products produced in the EU, and imported products. And in that sense, they're looking at a combination of a market surveillance and border mechanism instrument. Maybe a bit technical, but they're looking at something that in terms of enforcement would work somewhat differently from the United States approach. And we as civil society, and also, if you look at the European Parliament's Resolution, we're very much hoping they learn from the US Tariff Act, but make improvements. In particular, and this is maybe a little bit tangential from the Uyghur forced labour discussion, we really need to see a remedy centred model, so that in other cases of forced labour, the real purpose of such a law would be to drive urgent remedy to victims. For example, if you look at some of the cases of what's happened in Malaysia,

James Cockayne  16:19  

Right, and that brings us back, I guess, to this fundamental question of what the ultimate goal of these kinds of measures is or can be. And and I guess, that leads me to ask, Chloe, whether you're optimistic about the international community's ability to use these kinds of measures to generate a change in government policy in China so that the drivers of forced labour in and related to Xinjiang change. Are you optimistic on that front?

Chloe Cranston  16:54  

So I think it’s worth highlighting that this system of state imposed forced labour is different from elsewhere. So for example, Anti-Slavery has worked for decades on Uzbekistan and a decade on Turkmenistan. And in those countries, the primary goal of the state imposed forced labour is financial gain. Here, in what I mean in the Uyghur region, the financial gain is arguably secondary. The financial profit is not the primary objective we see from the Chinese government. The first and primary objective is ethnic and religious persecution. And so in that sense, this does make it, you know, this egregious horror, what we're viewing. And that does make this you know, a really tough campaign. However, what we do need to see is all levers used to put economic and political pressure on the Chinese government to end the state imposed forced labour and the other abuses. So that's import bans, that other economic pressure tools such as you know, export bans as well. Sanctions - sanctioning specific entities, sanctioning specific individuals. The role of the UN is absolutely crucial, the role of the ILO, the role of specific governments, we need to see more governments come in on this, it’s been very US heavy lead, but we do need to see, you know, there's a strong strong call for greater support from Muslim majority governments. So I think ultimately, we just need to be using all levers we have to put economic and political pressure on the Chinese government.

James Cockayne  18:42  

So the import ban is, in a sense, the first step towards that much more complex array of, of different levers that need to be pulled, is that right?

Chloe Cranston  18:53  

I wouldn't put them in a timeline. I would say they all need to be, they all need to happen at once, essentially, but I think the import ban piece as well, just to highlight that. So the question of whether the Chinese government is reforming the system is obviously absolutely crucial. But regardless of that companies still have their responsibility to respect human rights. Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Many governments are introducing our mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence laws as well now. So putting aside the question of that, of the reform in China for a second, that is evidently going to be a long term goal. We see the system continuing we see even actually the forced labour ramping up. Companies cannot be complicit in that, they cannot be profiteering from state imposed forced labour and import bans are absolutely crucial to do that. What they do is they mean companies need to know where their products come from. Absolutely no more excuses about the opaqueness of supply chains means we don't know where our cotton comes from. We need to get past that. Companies need to know their supply chains, they need to be working with their suppliers to redirect sourcing. And they really need to be taking this seriously and not be profiteering from the system.

James Cockayne  20:12  

Well Chloe thank you so much for everything that you and Anti-Slavery International have been doing to drive effort around the world to address this critical issue. And thank you so much for your time today. Thanks for listening to this episode of Xinjiang Sanctions presented by me James Cockayne. You can find out more about our research project at, where you can download our study, our policy briefs and explore datasets on government, Chinese and corporate responses. Thanks to the University of Nottingham Rights Lab and to our funders, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office for their support with this research and the podcast which is available on all major platforms.  Don't forget to subscribe if you're interested in accessing all the episodes from the series. 

In Episode 3, we hear from Anasuya Syam, Human Rights and Trade Policy Adviser at the Human Trafficking Legal Centre. James asks Anasuya about US import bans on goods made with Xinjiang forced labour, and the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.


James Cockayne  0:00  

Welcome to Xinjiang Sanctions, a podcast looking at the global response to forced labour in Xinjiang, China. I'm James Cockayne, a Professor of Global Politics and Anti-Slavery at the University of Nottingham. I've been working on modern slavery and forced labour issues for the last decade and researching Xinjiang forced labour for the last year. You can see the results of that research at In this short podcast series, I speak with global experts to understand why forced labour emerged in Xinjiang and what governments and business are doing to try to address it. My guest today is Anasuya Syam, Human Rights and Trade Policy Advisor at the Human Trafficking Legal Center. Welcome Anasuya. 

Anasuya Syam  0:43  

Thanks, James. It's a pleasure to be here.

James Cockayne  0:44  

Tell us a bit about the Human Trafficking Legal Center, Anasuya.

Anasuya Syam  0:48  

Thanks, James. The Human Trafficking Legal Center is a nonprofit based in Washington DC. We serve as a pro bono clearing house that connects trafficking survivors with highly skilled legal representation to hold traffickers accountable. One of our primary areas of focus is labour trafficking in global supply chains. And we do this by conducting cutting edge research to identify gaps in services and system failures. And we also seek to transform systems to prevent forced labour in global supply chains. So a lot of our trade work fits into that. The, the idea that we want to have systems change to address forced labour.

James Cockayne  1:28  

So you mentioned supply chains there and your title is Human Rights and Trade Policy Advisor. What does trade policy have to do with human trafficking and especially in a place like Xinjiang? 

Anasuya Syam  1:41  

So trade policy for years now has had some links to addressing forced labour in global supply chains, the US has had an import prohibition against products made using forced labour, prison labour and forced child labour since 1930. So that's been 90 years in the books. But it's only really been since 2016, that the law was enforced by US Customs and Border Protection to the extent that we're seeing today. And what we're seeing right now is the start of a global trend. And this goes back to one of our core areas of work that I mentioned when I introduced the Centre, which is about transforming systems to prevent forced labour in global supply chains. And we're seeing trade policy rise up to that level to transform systems and the way business is done to make sure that this prevents the occurrence of forced labour in the future. So import bands are really coming up right now. And we can see these debates happening in the EU, in Australia, in Canada, and in many other countries. It's a very topical issue.

James Cockayne  2:52  

So as you said, there's been an import ban in place on the books in the United States for almost a century now. What is that? How does that work? Tell us a bit about the relevant law and how that's enforced. 

Anasuya Syam  3:06  

So the import ban is enshrined in Section 307 of the US Tariff Act of 1930. It has its roots in protectionism. When we are talking about when the law came about in 1930, it was to protect domestic US manufacturing. But since then, and as I mentioned earlier, when the law was improved in 2015, by an amendment under the Obama Biden administration, there was a loophole in the law that had kind of swallowed enforcement efforts. Because the import ban had an exception - goods that were not made in the United States to meet American demand, even if they were made using forced labour or prison labour overseas, they could still be imported into the country to meet that demand. So once that loophole, the consumptive demand loophole was removed. we saw US Customs now having access to this tool and NGOs being able to leverage this tool and incorporate it into their campaigns to address forced labour. So we saw petitions coming in from NGOs, like Global Labor Justice, International Labor Rights Forum, those were some of the first petitions that we saw in 2016 on cotton from Turkmenistan, because it’s systemic state sponsored forced labour in Turkmenistan. We saw a petition on cotton from Uzbekistan, and then we realised, okay, this is something that CSOs can really get behind. Because this law relies quite a bit on external sources to share information about forced labour happening around the world. CBP relies on external sources, they do have the power to self initiate actions, based on their own investigations into forced labour. But by and large, we see a reliance on NGO partners, on unions, on worker representatives around the world to share this information.

James Cockayne  4:59  

So US Customs and Border Protection is looking to these civil society organisations to understand which shipments coming into the United States might potentially be made with forced labour. Is that right?

Anasuya Syam  5:12  

Well, more so for the evidence on forced labour that's happening on the ground in so many different regions around the world, but also to a certain extent to identify shipments that are coming to the United States. But of course, access to trade databases is not something that's available to a lot of different organisations. Because, you know, it's prohibitively expensive to some, but where possible, where that information is available on the ground at that factory level or the unit level. it's known that that entity exports to the United States, that's definitely information that is fed into US Customs investigations.

James Cockayne  5:53  

And is this tool that you're referring to, is this, is this what we sometimes hear referred to as Withhold Release Orders? What does that mean? 

Anasuya Syam  6:00  

Yes, so Withhold Release Order is the technical term for a detention order that US Customs can issue once it is convinced reasonably, that there is forced labour in the product that it is investigating. So once the investigation is complete, the Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection issues instructions to directors at all US ports of entry, detailing the Withhold Release Order that is in effect, the product, the region, if the specific factory or facility information about that, and instructing the directors at port and port officials to stop these goods at the border.

James Cockayne  6:42  

And what happens to the goods once they stop? 

Anasuya Syam  6:45  

So the goods are detained for a certain period of time. And the law gives importers the right to either contest the detention and say, hey, our products are not produced using forced labour and here's the evidence, or in the alternative, they are allowed to re-export the goods to other countries.

James Cockayne  7:04  

So they can send those goods that the US Customs and Border Protection has concluded, are more likely than not made with forced labour, they can send them to some other market to be sold there?

Anasuya Syam  7:15  

Exactly any market that does not have an import ban. So it lacks import restrictions on forced labour. And we, we’re seeing trends in this re-exportation because this is an option that most importers would like to use, rather than contesting the detention order, which requires you to have extensive supply chain documentation in place.

James Cockayne  7:40  

Would it be fair then adopting a devil's advocate position to say that this tool works more to cut the link between these goods and US consumers than it does to actually prevent the use of forced labour in the first place? Or is that too simplistic an analysis of what's going on here?

Anasuya Syam  8:01  

What we are seeing in the first instance is that companies are trying to proactively remedy the situation once they've been targeted, as opposed to simply cutting and running or leading to massive closures of their operations. So we are optimistic that it's more likely that the companies want access to US markets. And as more countries are thinking about import bans and as more borders close, that they will have no choice but to remedy the situation or just risk the financial, reputational and legal consequences. 

James Cockayne  8:38  

So as those risks of losing access to the US and potentially other markets are increasing the costs they incur from the changes in business practice to remove forced labour from their supply chain start to become a more worthwhile proposition. Is that, is that the conclusion?

Anasuya Syam  8:56  

It is because right now, what import bans are doing is bringing risk into the equation in a way that many other measures to date have not. And it has become a serious compliance issue for companies and it's taken four/five years of import ban enforcement for it to rise to this level. I mean, the enforcement doesn't just stop at a showing a Withhold Resource Order. That's just the first step, real enforcement is when goods are stopped at the border. And when CBP engages the companies to remedy forced labour. Now, we've seen companies really want to get the ban revoked or modified and for that, they really have to provide proof that forced labour no longer exists in their supply chain.

James Cockayne  9:47  

Have we seen any cases where that's led to a company remedying past harms? Or is this always just about changing business practices in a way that prevent future harms to workers? 

Anasuya Syam  10:00  

We've seen a bit of both and Malaysia is evolving as a case study and there's been a lot of reporting from Malaysia on the reimbursement of recruitment fee payments that migrant workers have made. And these have gone into millions of dollars. If you see US Customs and Border protections trade and travel report from fiscal year 21, CBP has stated that more than 30 million in recruitment fee payments have gone out on the back of Withhold Release Order processes. So that is significant, and definitely something that remedies a bit of the past harm that you mentioned. But it's, of course, just one step. We want the withhold resource process to be more forward looking and ensure that it really goes to the root causes, and the systemic issues in that particular supply chain.

James Cockayne  10:53  

So we've been talking about this tool a little bit in the abstract, has it been used specifically in the context of alleged forced labour in Xinjiang?

Anasuya Syam  11:03  

Since at least 20, late 2018 and early 2019, CBP has been targeting entities in the Xinjiang region, we've seen some of the first Withhold Release Orders or retention orders issued against hair product manufacturers from the Uyghur region. And I believe there was this really alarming detention that kind of shocked our collective conscience which involved an $800,000 shipment of human hair weaves traceable to detainees from the Uyghur region, and that that reporting and that public image of the of the detention really brought home the issue, I think, in a way, that maybe some of the other detentions have not. And this was one of the few instances where CBP also made that detention public. Usually, these detentions are not public.

James Cockayne  11:58  

Is this incident that you've mentioned Anasuya - where the shipment of hair products was detained - is that the only supply chain from Xinjiang that has been affected so far? Or have there been other industries in supply chains targeted by the use of withhold release orders as well?

Anasuya Syam  12:17  

There have been several other industries targeted under Withhold Release Orders, including cotton and tomatoes, computer parts, and a host of other industries. There have been chemicals that have been targeted, there has been more than 10 or 12, Withhold Release Orders against different entities.

James Cockayne  12:38  

And how are the different sectors reacting to this, this increased risk as you described it? Are they taking it in that into their stride? Are they simply factoring it in as a cost of business? Or are they taking steps to change the way they source their products to avoid these risks?

Anasuya Syam  12:58  

I think that the one Withhold Release Order against all cotton, and all tomatoes from the Uyghur region that really shifted practices. that really changed the game. Because that was the first time such an expansive region wide Withhold Release Order was issued by US Customs. And you can hear US customs officials say that that one Withhold Release Order, literally was like enforcing 100 other Withhold Release Orders. Just because of the cotton production and tomato production that happens in the Uyghur region and how it's then meshed with global supply chains. So because of the focused enforcement of that Withold Release Order - and last year, just to give you a number, more than 1469 shipments worth 489 million US dollars were detained. And my understanding is that a bulk of those pertained to cotton, the cotton and tomato Withhold Release Orders among others, including solar, which is also a target under the Withhold Release Order. So that enforcement, seeing US Customs do that at ports, really sent the message to the business community that this has been taken very seriously and US Customs does not tolerate forced labour in global supply chains.

James Cockayne  14:20  

So almost half a billion dollars you said there I think if I heard correctly, is that right?

Anasuya Syam  14:25  

Give or take. But that figure is across all Withhold Release Orders. What we've heard is that a bulk of that enforcement is actually under the Uyghur region Withhold Release Orders.

James Cockayne  14:36  

So clearly, section 307 is having quite an impact. And as you said, it's creating a sense of risk. Does that depend on the level of enforcement resources that are available to US Customs and Border Protection?

Anasuya Syam  14:52  

Yes, of course, the success of the law really depends on how it is being enforced. The broader the enforcement the more impact it's going to have on global supply chains and putting pressure on the Chinese government. Right now. I'm aware that US Customs and Border Protection got a fresh infusion of funding this year to enhance capacity to enforce the law, including additional personnel, enhancing the targeting practices, and so forth. So, we really hope that that infusion of funding is going to ramp up enforcement. CBP has already started enforcing the law on June 21st, when it took effect. Just a few days later, we heard of solar shipments being solar module shipments being blocked, at port. So CBP is on it. And they are very clear that they're committed to complete and robust enforcement of the law. But we do expect to see a lot more in terms of enforcement across different sectors. We know that cotton, tomatoes, and polysilicon are some of the industries identified for priority enforcement. But we know that there is, there's a lot of other industries and manufacturing that's based out of Xinjiang, and that stains global supply chains and, and one of the areas that we are all going to be keenly watching is the inclusion of companies to the Entities List, that the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force has to update every now and then. Right now what we have is just a baseline of companies on the list from pre existing Withhold Release Orders, from Department of Commerce Entity List, but we see the Entity List as something much bigger than what it currently is.

James Cockayne  16:41  

Tell us a bit more about the Entity List. What work does it do in the law?

Anasuya Syam  16:46  

As I mentioned earlier, the law creates a rebuttable presumption that goods either linked to the Uyghur region, or to entities that have links to forced labour in the Uyghur region and elsewhere in China are presumed to be made using forced labour. And this presumption can be rebutted only by clear and convincing evidence, which has to be submitted by the importer. So the entities identified on this list are those that have received have been beneficiaries of the Labour Transfer programmes. These are coercive programmes administered by the Chinese government in Xinjiang and poverty alleviation schemes and a host of other coercive measures that the Chinese government implements. We know that Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are being transported out of the, out of Xinjiang into other parts of China, under these programmes, so this list is supposed to be all encompassing, and involve entities that have historical and current links to these government programmes. So right now, we only see a few entities on the list, but we know that entities are going to be systematically added and there's also opportunity to remove entities from the list.

James Cockayne  18:03  

So just going back a step if US Customs and Border Protection already had this powerful tool in Section 307 of the Tariff Act, why did Congress feel it was necessary to enact the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in the first place?

Anasuya Syam  18:20  

I think the primary motivation was to respond to the systematic abuse and the evolving evidence around genocide and crimes against humanity happening in China. And we know that global supply chains are enmeshed in this issue so deeply and to have that economic pressure on the Chinese government, we needed a law that is much broader in scope than what was happening under the Withhold Release Order process which was targeting entity by entity, region by region. So now we have an all encompassing law that is that presumes that anything made using Uyghur forced labour in the in the Xinjiang region, or through these labour transfer schemes, is made using forced labour.

James Cockayne  19:08  

Has there ever been a law like this adopted in the US before?

Anasuya Syam  19:12  

There is precedent for this the US in 2017 as part of the North Korean sanctions regime, enacted a rebuttable presumption of forced labour against North Korean nationals working in global supply chains. This is also in response of a kind of degree of control the North Korean regime has on the wages and on the labour conditions of nationals working outside of North Korea, even in China, we've seen North Korean nationals working in different cities across China in really coercive conditions. So as part of the sanctions regime, there was a rebuttable presumption on forced labour.

James Cockayne  19:49  

Presumably US importers import a lot more from China and even from Xinjiang specifically than they do from North Korea. Is that a fair assumption?

Anasuya Syam  20:00  

That is but what we don't capture in that is the scale of North Korean workers or just any of these supply chains that are routed by a third countries where there's manufacturing and processing happening by third countries. Direct imports, be it North Korea or even Xinjiang, they've definitely dropped over the years. So right now, the focus is on third countries that are receiving imports and raw materials from these regions for processing into finished goods.

James Cockayne  20:27  

And what about other countries? Do other countries have these kinds of import bans in place that are relevant to trade with Xinjiang?

Anasuya Syam  20:42  

Yes, one country that has a law in its books, that has an import ban in its books is Canada. And this is because Canada, US and Mexico are obligated under the US Mexico Canada Trade Agreement or the new NAFTA to enact import bans and coordinate to ensure that there is no cross border movement of goods made using forced labour. So right now Canada has this law on its books. It was enacted in July 2020. Mexico is yet to enact a law like this.

James Cockayne  21:15  

Are other parts of the world considering doing something similar?

Anasuya Syam  21:19  

Yes, other parts of the world, it's still at proposal stages. We know the European Union is designing an import ban instrument as we speak, we should hear something in in a couple of months. And we know that Australia has had some debate around it as well. And right now with a big push from the US in the G7 meetings and the G20 meetings, we're seeing this on the agenda, on the global agenda for these countries. So we hope to see import bans and all of these countries, the big importing economies of the world, need to enact import bans. For it to be truly effective, there has to be coordination, and some kind of recognition of import bans that are implemented in another jurisdiction.

James Cockayne  22:06  

So signs that some countries are adopting these bans. But is it not possible for importers to simply reroute their, their trade routes to run through whichever countries set the bar the lowest, Anasuya?

Anasuya Syam  22:22  

Yes, and we are extremely concerned that other countries are becoming dumping grounds for products made using forced labour that are denied entry by the United States. To give an example, Canada has had an import ban on its books since July 2020. But there is only one shipment that we know of that has been detained under the law. And even that was released recently, in contrast to the thousands of shipments that the United States has been blocking. Now, since the importer has the option to re-export these goods, we are worried that it is going into Canada, into into Mexico. But sometimes even before it comes to the United States, the companies make that call or let's just you know, shift our business operations and focus more on on Europe. And we saw that happening when there was a slew of orders against Malaysian glove manufacturers. We heard that kind of of statement from senior management that some of these glove companies. But that is something that's a real concern. While the US is doing it's a bit, and of course, it's not a perfect system, If other countries don't adopt import bans and also recognise or have some degree of mutual recognition of each country's import bans, I think we're going to have really fractured supply chains. And this is going to be counterproductive to the goal of import bans on economic pressure that this is meant to create. So the goal is to have no safe harbour for forced labour anywhere in the world. And for that we need all the big importing economies at least to start off with to enact import bans.

James Cockayne  24:12  

So I guess that also raises another question, which is that if there are all of these steps being taken to prevent the import of goods made with forced labour, is there anything being done to stop investment by actors, let's say in the US, into the companies that are making these goods with forced labour in the first place? Is there anything preventing the outflow of capital from Western capital markets into these companies and supply chains around the world?

Anasuya Syam  24:45  

The primary target of these laws is the foreign producer or the foreign supplier. But that is not to say that there aren't any mechanisms to to go after the US buyers or multinational companies in the United States. So in the US, we have related provisions under the Tariff Act under which a US entity can be targeted for importing goods made using forced labour. And the US government did issue a $575,000 penalty a couple of years ago, against a US importer for importing the artificial sweetener stevia using prison labour in China. We have not seen US Customs take another action since that 2020 imposition. But we are optimistic and we definitely press the agency to issue more monetary penalties against US entities.

James Cockayne  25:42  

But there are, as you say, Anasuya moves to use new and creative levers such as financial sanctions and, and travel sanctions. One might think that that points to a level of policy commitment in western capitals to see this through, is that a fair read? Are you optimistic about the direction of travel in the western policy response?

Anasuya Syam  26:08  

I think there is a whole of government approach in the way forced labour is addressed in global supply chains, the import bans don't sit in isolation. They do form a part of the US government strategy, which includes, you know, the US Treasury, there's the US Trade Representative’s office and all have different authorities to go after forced labour in supply chains in different ways. So import bans are just one piece of the puzzle. All of this, which you mentioned James, they all have to work in tandem, for this to be truly effective. And I know the Investor Alliance on Human Rights are they're really working on on trying to create awareness on the part of investors. And I've been seeing a lot more investors in meetings on forced labour and global supply chains. Nowadays, it's not uncommon to see a Blackrock sitting in on meetings on import bans and forced labour in supply chains.

James Cockayne  27:02  

And I guess that also assumes or presumed that ultimately, this kind of economic pressure will lead to policy change in China. And I guess that's a big question mark for, for many commentators. We don't necessarily have a hugely successful track record of using these kinds of levers and sanctions pressures in the West to produce pro-human rights policy change in China. Do you think that, that we should be optimistic in thinking that this will work this time around?

Anasuya Syam  27:39  

This is a historical and unprecedented law, and the kind of supply chains that are going to be implicated under this law, it's something that we, that the United States has thought long and hard before enacting the law, we understand the repercussions. It is disruptive to the global economy, and it has to be disruptive to the global economy, because the system has, has had its failures and has been broken for a while now. The way business is being done, that has to be changed. So the message, the central message of these trade policies that are now emerging, is that it cannot be business as usual. And that you need to have an intimate understanding of your supply chain, you can no longer hide behind complexities of your supply chain, not knowing who is the supplier beyond tier one, you need to know where the raw materials come from, if it's cotton you need to know where your bailing comes from, we're talking about real level transparency here. So I think these laws, they are ambitious, but I think they have already had considerable impact. We've seen shifts in in corporate behaviour, more companies are proactively doing a lot more to address supply chains than ever before, because as I mentioned earlier, it's a big compliance issue now. Governments are shifting their policies. Malaysian government has responded with a slew of policy changes since the last two, three years of of action taken against the glove and palm oil industry in Malaysia. And we're also seeing remedy go out to workers held in forced labour in in the Malaysian context, as I mentioned earlier, so we're really seeing these three different buckets where there's change. So this is something that hasn't been done before. But I think it's definitely not the last that we're going to see of import bans. As we noted earlier, this is just the start of a trend. And this is now the new normal. If you don’t know your supply chains, these are the consequences, you’re going to face.

James Cockayne  29:45  

A new normal. That seems a great place to end it. Thank you so much for your work on these important issues and Anasuya and for spending a bit of time to explain the results to us today.

Anasuya Syam  29:56  

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

James Cockayne  29:58  

Thanks for listening to this episode of Xinjiang Sanctions presented by me, James Cockayne. You can find out more about our research project at, where you can download our study, our policy briefs and explore datasets on government, Chinese and corporate responses. Thanks to the University of Nottingham Rights Lab and to our funders, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office for their support with this research and the podcast which is available on all major platforms. Don't forget to subscribe if you're interested in accessing all the episodes from the series.

In Episode 2 of Xinjiang Sanctions, James speaks with Dr Adrian Zenz, Senior Fellow and Director of China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Dr Zenz explains how many people are affected by Xinjiang forced labour, and James asks him about his sources, methods and the challenges of working on this issue.


James Cockayne  0:01  

Welcome to Xinjiang Sanctions, a podcast looking at the global response to forced labour in Xinjiang, China. I'm James Cockayne, a Professor of Global Politics and Anti-Slavery at the University of Nottingham. I've been working on modern slavery and forced labour issues for the last decade and researching Xinjiang forced labour for the last year. You can see the results of that research at In this short podcast series, I speak with global experts to understand why forced labour emerged in Xinjiang and what governments and business are doing to try to address it. My guest on this episode is Dr. Adrian Zenz Senior Fellow and Director of China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Dr. Zenz, welcome to the podcast. 

Adrian Zenz  0:47  

Thank you. 

James Cockayne  0:47  

Dr. Zenz I thought we'd start with a question about the scale of this issue. How many people in and from Xinjiang have been subjected to forced labour?

Adrian Zenz  0:56  

Xinjiang is operating a very comprehensive system of forced labour – precisely, it is two different systems. One is through the Vocational Skills Education and Training Centres, which is the official sort of euphemism for the reeducation camps, the vocational camps, we can estimate at least several hundred thousand to be subjected to forced labour through that system. That's a conservative estimate. In addition, Xinjiang like the rest of China operates a programme called Poverty Alleviation through Labour Transfer. Labour transfers are a common feature of developing societies whereby agriculturalists, rural surplus labourers really, are being transferred to secondary and tertiary sector jobs industry, typically manufacturing. And of course, you find that throughout the world, throughout China, but in Xinjiang, and to some extent in Tibet, the programme is coercive, because it fulfils a political and other goals other than economic and there's a real distinct aspect of coercion to it. This system has been intensified and expanded recently, subjecting around or over 3 million people to labour transfers, we can estimate that possibly close to 2 million of these are at risk of coercion, and therefor of coercive labour. So the total scope I estimate to be between two and two and a half million.

James Cockayne  2:19  

Those are very large numbers. How do you arrive at these numbers Dr. Zenz? Can you tell us a bit about your methods?

Adrian Zenz  2:25  

Yes, so of course, I'm also someone who has been estimating the scale of the extra legal internment campaign into reeducation camps, which initially was estimated to be at least several hundred thousand. More recent and especially most recent evidence, also from leaked internal documents, such as the Xinjiang Police Files, points to a scope of one to 2 million. Within these vocational training camps are one component. One document from one prefecture alone spoke of placing 100,000 of these vocational camp detainees into labour placements in 2018 and it’s a conservative estimate to estimate that at least several hundred thousand are at risk or subjected to forced labour through that system. With labour transfer it is a bit more complicated because labour transfers are not inherently coercive. People can earn more money by working in a factory than previously being farming land. And the main reason why they might resist that is not just economic it is also because it tears apart community - it displaces people. The method is to estimate firstly, how many ethnic minorities are part of that system because you also have rural Han Chinese farmers, for example. And secondly, some groups are at higher risk of coercion. We have for example, academic studies, Chinese academic studies from previous years that estimated you know that quite a significant share of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities from Xinjiang were not willing to participate in labour transfers, oftentimes because they have for example, caretaking obligations. Women are taking care of children, families are taking care of elderly. The state is therefore instituting centralised childcare, centralised boarding schools, centralised elderly care. My estimate was that about 60 per cent of them are at risk of coercion and some of these would be at a higher risk of coercion, especially those who are characterised in academic studies and state discourses as ‘idle’.

James Cockayne  4:27  

We often hear this phrase surplus rural labour in this context, is that one of the relevant concepts here that we should be thinking about when looking for indicators of coercion or where does that fit into this mental framework?

Adrian Zenz  4:43  

That is exactly right. So the Poverty Alleviation through Labour Transfer, which is the larger of the two systems, state sponsored labour placement systems that are coercive, or at least partially coercive, that system explicitly transfers so-called “rural surplus labourers”, which is an international concept not just found in China. You have rural surplus labourers anywhere - in our western societies we had simply too many people with population increase the arable land typically does not increase or not enough. So you have more and more people trying to make a livelihood out of the land. These people often transfer themselves they want to go into factory jobs, they want to go into industry or other jobs for various reasons. However, others do not want this. And it really depends on the context. And so in Xinjiang, we have a particularly problematic context of coercion, because the state is using labour transfers to tear apart ethnic communities to achieve political goals and to indoctrinate people and assimilate them culturally and spiritually. So rural surplus labourers are clearly the target of this campaign. And this is one of the keywords that researchers like myself and others have used to identify risk of coercion and implicate specific companies.

James Cockayne  6:03  

So it sounds like very meticulous and demanding work that you've been undertaking Dr. Zenz because you have to, as you say, look, both at these structural patterns and policies, but then also at quite specific cases and see what's going on at the level of intent and voluntarity, at the specific level. What kinds of documents or other evidence are you able to use in understanding what's going on at those two different levels?

Adrian Zenz  6:31  

Yes, it is a very complex, very complicated type of research that first and foremost requires us to clearly understand the conceptual dimension, the terminology, the policy, the policy framework, at higher, at different administrative levels, higher levels, and then local levels. It is very complex indeed. And it's crucially important – especially for implicating companies, for governments to draft sanctions for Western companies to divest from supply chains that are problematic – it's crucially important to understand the conceptual dimension, to understand the terminology and the systems that are in place. The research has involved documentary research at every imaginable conceptual level. Of course, there's important witness accounts - the witness accounts come almost entirely from the vocational camp network. We don't really have witness accounts from labour transfers, although some Western media has been able to conduct some investigations on that matter. At the highest level, some of the interesting documents that we have on the nature and the goals of labour, Poverty Alleviation through Labour Transfers, come from top secret speeches by Xi Jinping himself and several other government officials that were leaked first to the New York Times in 2019, and then to the Uyghur Tribunal in 2021. And in these documents, I found references, very important references, to the political goals that were already stated in 2014 of labour transfers, of employment placement programmes that we previously didn't know about, and these statements in 2014 really framed what was to come. The research is also chronological, so we carefully examined labour transfer started in the early 2000s, in these regions, state sponsored ones. And then after 2014, they became significantly more coercive, we now know why, because in top secret internal speeches, Xi Jinping and other government officials spoke of the danger of idleness, of unemployment, of rural populations being susceptible to extremism, and also how enterprise work is conducive to learning and acquiring Chinese culture and language meaning to assimilation.

James Cockayne  8:43  

So in the field of anti-forced labour, studies in work and anti slavery work, we often hear the rationale for these practices being framed in terms of greed - business, greed, corporate greed - but it seems that what you're suggesting here is that there's some governmental policies that are involved in producing the context of coercion as well, is that correct?

Adrian Zenz  9:08  

That is very true. Xi Jinping himself in a top secret speech said that economic growth by itself cannot guarantee political stability and he affirmed the primacy of political stability over economic development, and that economic growth has to be subservient to the goal of political control. At the same time, he did say the economic is still an important foundation, it’s still the foundation for political stability, you need it as well as a component. And so what we see is that labour transfers and internment camp labour is being used to put people into work and to grow the economy. One internal state document that I uncovered in 2019 even openly admits that the vocational reeducation camps that they have become an important driver of employment and economic growth in Xinjiang attracting companies and capital from eastern China. And the understanding that the primary goals are political is very, very important to also look at how to address forced labour. So the political goals are primary, but there are economic benefits. And of course Xinjiang is trying to make its police state economically sustainable and viable. And the latest development has been to take on a new Party Secretary to govern the region, a Party Secretary called Ma Xingrui who's from Guangdong, who's from eastern China, a technocrat with experience in economic development to succeed Chen Quanguo, the legendary, ominous figure who first pacified Tibet and then oversaw the campaign of mass internment.

James Cockayne  10:37  

Why the focus on political stability in Xinjiang in particular? Is this a set of policies that are being tailored to the region for some reason, or are they policies that have been played in other parts of China as well that are just playing out this way in Xinjiang?

Adrian Zenz  10:54  

Large restive minorities that are culturally and spiritually very different from the Han Chinese majority, such as Tibetans and Uyghurs, have long been a challenge for Beijing. Things came to a head with, for example, the riots in the capital of Ürümqi when Uyghurs and Han were clashing and many people died in 2009. And since then, the Chinese really set up a very comprehensive and sophisticated police state. Ultimately, choosing and opting for a campaign of mass internment and reeducation camps, and important new evidence on that campaign was just published in the Xinjiang Police Files in May this year. And because of the special situation and challenge with the Uyghurs, the Chinese state has instituted a set of unprecedented policies in the region, the most unprecedented being the campaign of mass internment. But coercive labour transfers you also find in Tibetan regions, for example, because the state is achieving goals of political stability through putting ethnic groups into full time employment where they're easier to monitor, easier to survey, easier to control, easier to divorce them from spiritual practice. You don't build a mosque, you don't build a Buddhist temple on a factory park. So you try to modernise people, assimilate them, and that is an important goal of Beijing's ethnic policy.

James Cockayne  12:15  

You've mentioned the Xinjiang Police Files Dr. Zenz. Can you tell us a bit about those files? What do they tell us that's new?

Adrian Zenz  12:22  

The Xinjiang Police Files is a set of, a huge cache of internal documents and images obtained directly for the very first time from internal Xinjiang police computers through hacking. And these files contain images of how police guards reeducation camps, you know, showing heavily armed police with automatic weapons, showing detainees with shaved heads standing in uniforms in line, images of Uyghurs taken in police stations as they were photographed or detained or had been detained. And very important internal documents just really confirming that reeducation camps are not run as boarding schools, vocational boarding schools, they are run like high security prisons and internal speeches by high level officials, such as Party Secretary Chen Quanguo openly saying to open fire on those who try to escape, openly talking about the fact they were building so many prisons and that the prisons were still overcrowded, even though they were building so many.

James Cockayne  13:22  

The Chinese government when confronted with this kind of evidence, sometimes points to the fact that these centres have now been closed. Is that the case? And if it is, does that mean that forced labour is a thing of the past now in Xinjiang?

Adrian Zenz  13:39  

That is a very difficult question to ascertain. Indeed, in 2019 the Chinese government did say that the so called students of the vocational schools have been released and found and then placed into employment. Satellite imagery does confirm that a lot of these lower security reeducation camps were de-securitized. We also have some witness testimony that shows that people were indeed put into forced labour after they were being released from camps. At the same time satellite analysis shows that a whole number of higher security, prison and detention complexes either were newly constructed or have been expanded. We also have significant evidence that a lot of Uyghurs were sentenced to long prison terms, oftentimes straight from the camps. Now, since late 2019, we really have virtually no new information about the policy or development of the forced labour related to the vocational internment camps. It is unclear to what extent that system continues or not. I suspect that there is significant forced labour in China's prison and extra-legal detention system in Xinjiang, which as we know continues to operate, but we don't really have information on it. On the other hand, the Poverty Alleviation through Labour Transfer programme continues to be well documented continues to expand in scope, and new developments can be detected, ongoing risks of coercion on both policy and implementation levels can continue to be assessed. My latest report on that came out in June, assessing how now the Chinese are trying to normalise the system by keeping people in their jobs through a system of unemployment monitoring and surveillance and early warning. 

James Cockayne  15:29  

What implications does that have for businesses that are trying to identify whether they're connected to forced labour in their supply chains? In the past, perhaps they were looking for a connection to one of these so-called Vocational Skills and Education Training Centres. But if people are now moved out of those centres, or indeed, finding their way into coerced work through the Poverty Alleviation programme, is that going to impact the way that business should be examining their own supply chains for these indicators of forced labour?

Adrian Zenz  16:05  

A lot of Western business exposure to forced labour in Xinjiang, connects most clearly to the labour transfer scheme. Linkages to the vocational internment camp forced labour schemes have always been much harder to prove, and are more limited. For example, the picking of cotton is almost entirely all the evidence that we have, or 99% of the evidence is linked to labour transfers, and not directly to internment camps or prisons, although the subsequent processing of textiles is linked to it. So the situation is made more complicated for companies through the latest development, that China is now publishing much less information about specific companies being involved or implicated in Poverty Alleviation policies, and that has two reasons. Firstly, of course, international criticism and sanctions making the topic sensitive. But secondly, and more importantly, it's because of an effort to really normalise and institutionalise the system. So, between 2016 and 20, you had a highly mobilisational campaign style efforts to put entire villages into labour transfers to really mobilise hundreds of thousands, especially ones that had never done it before. And you have propaganda accounts, local implementation accounts, and they were local media was writing, this is wonderful, and we've, we've mobilised 200 people in this village, and they are now working at these particular factories. You don't really have much of these reports anymore. And the reason is that now these people have been mobilised, they are working. And the main system is now to monitor and survey them and keep them in place. And that dramatically affects the evidence situation, which is why individual companies trying to monitor to audit their supply chains to Xinjiang is almost futile. Basically, you have to stay away from it.

James Cockayne  17:51  

For Western listeners, I think the scale of this can sometimes be difficult to get one's head around. The Chinese state has moved hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the last few decades. That's been hailed by many, including in the West in multilateral institutions like the World Bank as having immense welfare gains for those people but also for the global economy. And this emphasis in China on poverty alleviation as a central driver of their policies and strategies is very clear. What do you say to the justifications that are offered for policies in Xinjiang based on poverty alleviation, or indeed on stability, national security grounds? Are these not legitimate policy goals for the Chinese state to be pursuing?

Adrian Zenz  18:46  

If you look at the iron law of organisation, an organisation always tries to preserve its existence and the Chinese Communist Party is certainly doing everything it can to preserve its existence through increasingly authoritarian means, not just towards minorities, but also towards their own population. And just look at Hong Kong. Chinese poverty alleviation has been successful, it has lifted many people out of poverty. It also has been coercive, also in other parts. I mean, there are academic research accounts that indicate coercion, especially through relocation, but it's been more subtle. It's not been as targeted. What we're now seeing and Xinjiang, and to some extent Tibet, is unprecedented. And what that means is that development is delivered, but it's authoritarian. Potential benefits may be delivered, but they come at a significant cost. The cost to the ethnic minorities is a loss of community cohesion, a loss of freedom over their livelihoods, over their lifestyles, family units being torn apart, kids being put into full time boarding school, elderly put away into state care, families torn apart working in factory parks. And this also, to some extent, this is part of a potential genocide because optimising the ethnic population structure as part of the Chinese goal also for systematic birth prevention and reduction of birth rates, and part of that is achieved by moving Han settlers to southern Xinjiang, the Uyghur heartland. The plan was to move 300,000 Han settlers to southern Xinjiang by 2022. And to move Uyghurs out. And one internal report by an academic university called the Nankai Report stated that labour transfers serve to reduce the population density of ethnic minorities, so they're not all just sitting on top of each other, but can be better assimilated. So you can have poverty alleviation, sometimes even genuine, which at the same time can be highly coercive and come with significant drawbacks and disadvantages for those ethnic groups involved. At the same time, we have to be careful, I think a number of witness statements from the internment camp labour system have clearly spoken of very poor remuneration almost at slavery levels. We also have very problematic accounts of how much is paid for those who pick cotton, some can maybe pick more and earn more others pick less and earn less, and it's back breaking work. So at the same time, we have the potential aspect of enslavement, the potential aspect of economic exploitation, wherever there's a power asymmetry, you have the potential for economic exploitation. And the Nankai report says that eastern Chinese regions should introduce quotas, because they can reduce their labour cost. Eastern Chinese Han Chinese labour costs have risen dramatically, significantly in the last 10 years. And so using Uyghur labour instead is a way to reduce cost. This can lead to economic exploitation.

James Cockayne  21:46  

Dr. Zenz, your works been critical, really in the last few years for establishing the complexity and the nuance of these facts around what's going on in Xinjiang and relating to Xinjiang. And you've become as a result, a go to expert for policy actors in Washington, in Brussels, in London, in other capitals, as they try to understand what's going on and develop responses. How would you rate that Western policy response to date?

Adrian Zenz  22:14  

The United States acted quite early. In 2019 they were responding to mass internments. They were responding also to forced labour. I was invited to testify at the hearing of the Congressional Executive Commission on China in October of 2019, and I submitted what soon after became the first major academic report on forced labour in Xinjiang. And this report, this research became very much the foundation for the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which was subsequently drafted and recently was enacted as law in June, just last month. And I was very pleased to see that my core recommendation was being implemented and it's now law in the United States, my core recommendation was precisely what is called the rebuttable presumption, meaning that to presume that because of the two concurrently operating forced labour systems in Xinjiang, goods made in Xinjiang, there must be an assumption that they are made with forced labour, that it’s a tainting. So it's very good to see this in action. Other places have been much slower to act. Of course, even in the US it took several years to do this. After my research on cotton, the United States then soon after banned cotton imports. But in Europe, things have been much slower. It's been very encouraging to see more recent developments. Just last month, the European Parliament passed a resolution specifically on forced labour, which mentioned that in regions where there's systematic state sponsored forced labour, import bans should be enacted. And several of the language we see in that resolution mirrors what we see from the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, the import ban enacted in the United States. However, the European Commission is more interested to push back on that they want a due diligence law. Due diligence since laws may be effective in classic forced labour settings, but they're not effective in a forced labour setting, such as Xinjiang, where you have the government itself being behind it. And there's political goals, not just economic ones. Due diligence is ineffective also, because you cannot conduct a meaningful audit, you cannot go to Uyghurs and say are you voluntarily choosing this job? Because if they said no, they would end up probably in a reeducation camp. Overall, therefore, their response has been slow. And I was quite disappointed, especially in Europe, and also the Biden administration was dragging its feet there were concerns about, you know, hampering the Green Revolution and other things. There was delays in 2021. But thankfully, we are now seeing some very promising developments and by promising signs, we'll see what happens in Europe by the end of the year. The biggest disappointment in my opinion, is at the multilateral level, multilateral institutions. We really need the United Nations. After Michelle Bachelet Human Rights Commissioner had a disastrous visit to the region, parroting Beijing's propaganda framing it in Beijing's terms, the long awaited report on Xinjiang by the United Nations Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, is now due to come out in by September, and we'll see to what extent also there will be references to forced labour.

James Cockayne  25:23  

So what kind of other action would you be looking for, let's say at the United Nations, we know that China has a veto in the Security Council so that's not a path that's going to happen, or going to lead to multilateral action. Are you looking for the engagement of the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council? What could be expected?

Adrian Zenz  25:42  

What could be expected is that at least the commissioners make strong statements, issue strong risk reports, that China would be subject to strong verbal and written diplomatic criticism. And that China would be really in the spotlight when they're still reviews, you know, the Human Rights Review, and other reviews, for example, racial discrimination, one that you know, in 2018, and China, in the midst at the height of the internment campaign basically was absolved, you know it, the United Nations, basically, by majority, cleared China's track record and said this China passed the exam, basically. And that, of course, is reflective of China's strategy of elite capture, capturing the elites, capturing governments is being successful also through the Belt and Road in making developing countries dependent on it, or capturing them for the narrative also, like an anti-American narrative, and that shows how one influential superpower can hijack the UN system. So I think we have to really think well, is the UN system broken? As many activists said after Michelle Bachelet's visit to Xinjiang.

James Cockayne  26:48  

What about business? Where does business fit in? You've just mentioned this idea of elite capture. We know that in many countries, even in the US where there are restrictions on businesses importing goods made in Xinjiang, on the grounds that they might be made or are made with forced labour, those same businesses can have Western investors. Where does Western business fit in this mix? And what can we expect from them going forward?

Adrian Zenz  27:17  

Businesses are typically there to make money and I think that's what's exactly it's been happening. Businesses have been dragging their feet and when they were finally forced to do something, then a little bit and some issued statements. But then companies like H&M faced a huge backlash in China, after they did make statements on Xinjiang. And then lots of these companies pulled the statements off their websites and are saying nothing. And that's, you know, because some of them have significant business in China. And then they have to choose and China even instituted an anti-sanction law, trying to hit back at anybody trying to sanction or divest. So this has become very problematic. But I have early on argued that this cannot be left to business, this has to be solved at a political level, you have to create a political reality, you have to do an import ban, shift supply chains away, create alternative production, this can be very costly for us. But you know, not supporting forced labour does have a price tag. And that's one that we need to pay. If we value what we value, the values that we value. Valued values have a cost, they have a value and one has to pay the price for them, or else they're not our values. And so this needs a political solution, the business response has been largely disappointing. Not surprisingly, in my opinion, there, of course, has been positive examples. And that oftentimes, like especially in the early days, business has to be chased. You know, like there has to be a media report, and then the business might divest, you know, but they don't do it before that. Now they try to lobby against Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act as well, trying to dilute it.

James Cockayne  28:47  

So part of the role of government here, if I'm understanding you correctly, Dr. Zenz is is to create the incentive structures that business responds to whether those are, you know, negative incentives to encouraging them not to do certain things not to continue to do business with Xinjiang or positive incentives to, for example, invest in alternative sources of supply of, say, polysilicon, which comes largely from Xinjiang at the moment.

Adrian Zenz  29:15  

Exactly. Politics has to change economic reality and not the other way around.

James Cockayne  29:20  

Are you optimistic that that's going to happen in the years ahead?

Adrian Zenz  29:24  

Well, in the US, it is happening in Europe, it looks like it probably will happen because the European Parliament has to ratify, whatever the European Commission comes up with, and they will come up with something. Von der Leyen has committed to that it is happening, and it will be a battle. And if the European Parliament refuses to ratify a half baked solution, then it could drag out but the end result might be the desired result. So the main problem is timing. But at the moment, things are looking relatively positive. The problem of course, if this is limited to the West, what's the rest of the world doing? They're gonna buy Xinjiang cotton they're gonna buy, you know, products from Xinjiang. So China's economic strategy might shift to focus on Belt and Road countries and economies. And that's one of the big loopholes that we have here.

James Cockayne  30:12  

Yes, although in some markets, we also see that this kind of what economists call social dumping, dumping of goods made below recognised international social and labour standards, leads to local producers being undercut. So in West Africa, for example, the allocation of tomatoes from Xinjiang, has led to a collapse in local production and processing. So I think there are political opportunities for the sanctioning coalition to recruit new supporters, maybe in specific markets in around tomatoes in West Africa and Latin America, for example, in cotton, Central Asia is an interesting question. And as you say, it's you know, very much at play in the Belt and Road Initiative, but also a producer of cotton and may have – governments in Central Asia may have – incentives, not to see their local producers undercut by cotton from Xinjiang or elsewhere. So a complex road ahead. We owe you Dr. Zenz a lot for helping us understand the complexity of these issues. You've mentioned that you've been working on this for many years now. And you have as a result been targeted for considerable pressure by the Chinese government, even formal sanctions. What do you think the Chinese government is trying to achieve with that kind of pressure?

Adrian Zenz  31:34  

My work is heavily based on analysing, authenticating and examining Chinese government documents, the Chinese government's own documents, their own policy, and they themselves have been admitting almost anything that we need to know, some through publicly available some through internal documents. And this work has been especially dangerous and problematic for Beijing. As a result, they have not really been able to attack my work. In fact, they don't want to point people to my work. They have been trying to attack my person, through character assassination attempts. And that's been the main strategy also maybe to scare other researchers, you know, to scare others who might follow in my footsteps. Of course, these attacks are very much a sign of the effectiveness of this work, and of my work and of this methodology, which is also now being adopted by others. This type of methodology is being used now by other researchers, by other media outlets, etc. that I basically more or less developed in the last several years. And that's the way it is, it's a sign of success. And it's important to just keep going to continue to produce significant output, and to continue to establish our knowledge.

James Cockayne  32:43  

Well, thank you for your ongoing commitment to this really important, critically important work, Dr. Zenz and thank you for your time today.

Adrian Zenz  32:50  

Well, thank you, Professor Cockayne for inviting me on this podcast.

James Cockayne  32:54  

It's a pleasure. Thanks for listening to this episode of Xinjiang Sanctions presented by me, James Cockayne. You can find out more about our research project at, where you can download our study, our policy briefs and explore datasets on government, Chinese and corporate responses. Thanks to the University of Nottingham Rights Lab and to our funders, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office for their support with this research and the podcast which is available on all major platforms. Don't forget to subscribe if you're interested in accessing all the episodes from the series.

In Episode 1, James is joined by Zumretay Arkin, Programme and Advocacy Manager for the World Uyghur Congress, and Jewher Ilham, rForced Labour Project Co-ordinator  at the Worker Rights Consortium, to discuss allegations of forced labour in Xinjiang. He asks Zumretay and Jewher about their personal connections to policies generating forced labour in Xinjiang, and what is being done to address them.


James Cockayne  00:01

Welcome to Xinjiang Sanctions, a podcast looking at the global response to forced labour in Xinjiang, China. I'm James Cockayne, a Professor of Global Politics and Anti-Slavery at the University of Nottingham. I've been working on modern slavery and forced labour issues for the last decade and researching Xinjiang forced labour for the last year. You can see the results of that research at In this short podcast series, I speak with global experts to understand why forced labour emerged in Xinjiang, and what governments and business are doing to try to address it. I'm very pleased to be joined on this episode by Zumretay Arkin, Programme and Advocacy Manager for the World Uyghur Congress, and Jewher Ilham, Forced Labour Project Co-ordinator at the Worker Rights Consortium. Welcome.

Zumretay Arkin  00:51

Thank you for having us.

Jewher Ilham  00:52

Thank you for having us.

James Cockayne  00:54

Jewher I might start with you. What do people mean when they refer to forced labour in Xinjiang?

Jewher Ilham  01:00

Oftentimes, when people think of forced labour, they think of people are forced to work in a factory and get paid very low wages, or work in horrible conditions, which applies to what many Uyghurs are going through in the Uyghur region. But what's so different about the forced labour in the Uyghur region is that it's state imposed, state sponsored forms of forced labour, which is widespread and the Chinese government has been using the excuse of for the name of poverty alleviation, and forcing Uyghurs who might have already had perfect jobs or a career that they have been working in for years, and forcing them to work in low income jobs. And there are also different kinds of forced labour that is happening, but within the region. First of all, there's the coerced labour of rural poor in the so called Poverty Alleviation programme. And the Chinese government has a standard of how many numbers each year they would like to subject people to be participating in such programmes and where people are sent to the so called centralised training centres -- even though it's called as training centres, but when you look at it from the outside, there's no difference from a prison because it has high fences, watchtowers, guarded with police or armed polices and barbed wires. And there are also other kinds of forced labour, which is the forced labour of detainees, it could be ex detainees, or current detainees. So detainees include people who are locked up in internment camps, re education camps, and also there's prison labour as well. So they're all different kinds of forced labour but they're all fall into the categories of forced labour practices. For the prison labour are people who have already received sentences for example, like several members of my family have been locked up, and then received from 10 years to life sentence. And oftentimes prison labour -- not only in the Uyghur region, but in China as a whole --  prison labour has always been known to be a very common practices to be used by the Chinese government. And oftentimes, it's in the Uyghur region, oftentimes the XPCC which is the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, they have their own prison systems and factories where they subject prisoners to work in XPCC-owned factories, it could produce from textile to food and all kinds of yarning, harvesting cotton, and all sorts of manufacturing the habits of those factories.

James Cockayne  03:44

So it's an incredibly complex and organised pattern of forced work that's going on here – or really several different organised patterns of forced work.

Jewher Ilham  03:56

Besides the forced labour practices in the Uyghur region, forced labour is also happening outside of the Uyghur region as well not only in prison labour, but also there are forced labour transfer programmes, which is also administrated by the Chinese government, by the XPCC as well, where Uyghur people are sent shipped out of their homes are sent out of their homelands and sent to mainland cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and some provinces like Shandong to work in factories. And oftentimes those people cannot go home and they have to work in factories for long hours with very low payments. And those companies that are participating in forced labour transfers accept government subsidies, and it's oftentimes shown on their annual reports and that's how the researchers have been and human rights advocates have been able to identify which of the companies have been participating in the Labour Transfer programmes and according to the recent reports that at least 80,000 Uyghurs and not only Uyghurs, but also other kinds of ethnic groups have been forcibly transferred from our homeland Uyghur region to factories in central China and eastern China.

James Cockayne  05:11

So this aspect of working in factories in private business is a new development in a way beyond the tradition of coerced work as part of the rehabilitation process in the criminal justice and the political re-education system. Is that right? Is that one of the things that’s new and different about what we’re seeing in these policies in Xinjiang?

Jewher Ilham  05:36

Yes, it’s oftentimes people think forced labour is only related to economic gain, like profit gain. But oftentimes, what is happening in the Uyghur region is that forced labour has been used as a tool by the Chinese government to brainwash the people to re educate the people, and to assimilate the people to -- just like rest of China -- to make them becoming more and more Han Chinese to eliminate Uyghur culture, to wipe out the identity, Uyghur identity. And you know, from banning the Uyghur language to be spoken in those facilities, in those camps in those factories, to having forcing them to sing Chinese propaganda songs. I was taught several of those songs growing up, actually, you know,  没有共产党就没有新中国 (Méiyǒu Gòngchǎndǎng jiù méiyǒu xīn Zhōngguó) , it’s like, “If there’s no Communist Party, then there's no new China”, you know, it has always been a thing for a very long time. And now it's just being forced on the Uyghurs. And you can't even be granted a meal without singing a song to praise Xi Jinping, without singing a song to praise the Communist Party and those forced labour practices, those strict and crucial policies have been used in the name of poverty alleviation, also countering terrorism and combating religious extremism. But it's really that the Chinese government wants to seize control of the region, and subdue the Uyghur population and just strengthen their control over the entire community.

Zumretay Arkin  07:06

Just to reiterate, maybe some of the points that Jewher has mentioned, I think forced labour itself, like the forced labour schemes and programmes, they're not new, you know, in itself, I think there's a long history of forced labour in China, if you go back to, you know, Cultural Revolution period, a lot of Chinese people were also undergoing forced labour programmes. And even in our region. I know, for example, my grandparents, my own father went through these forced labour programmes, because at the time this was imposed, and again, it's always imposed by the state by the central government. And then of course, it's kind of separated to lower levels. And then directives comes from different kind of levels. But forced labour has always been a thing. There was also the hashar programme a couple years ago, as well in the region, where, you know, especially cotton picking, this was imposed. I think, what's new is that how Jewher has also said it is it has this like new political dimension where it is also political and economic dimensions, because forced labour, obviously, you know, making things easier for the governments but also for companies. So it's profitable, because of the industrialization, our globalised world, and you know, how the global supply chains are heavily dependent on Chinese market and Chinese labour. This has become a big economic, I suppose, centre for the government, but the government is also using it as a political tool of oppression. And I think the industrialization has played a key part and kind of the ongoing state sponsored forced labour regime, which also comes actually at the same time as the securitisation of the region. So this goes back to of course, 2014, when Xi Jinping actually visited East Turkestan for the first time, I'm referring to East Turkestan, as you know, as the Uyghur region. And actually, you know, in 2014, when he visited the region, this was really like the beginning of escalation of the discriminatory policies that were going to be implemented in the years to come. And that led to the mass arbitrary detentions and camps targeting of Uyghurs and, you know, other target groups on the basis of their religion and ethnic identity in the name of countering terrorism. So later, with the appointment of Chen Quanguo, as the Party Secretary to the region, who really implemented all of the mass sophisticated surveillance system that really discriminates against targeted Uyghurs, we saw this open air prison, which really came to control every single aspect of Uyghur's lives. And in the recent years, now, we're really talking about this like state sponsored coerced labour regime. And this is as Jewher mentioned, present in various industries. And actually interesting fact today, Chinese state media reported that Xi Jinping was actually visiting the region again after eight years, and then this time around, he really spent a lot of time visiting Bingtuan, which is the XPCC which the Xinjiang Production and Construction orps, which is actually a paramilitary organisation that is responsible for really implementing all of these forced labour schemes, and also the internment camps. And another interesting fact is that this entity was sanctioned multilaterally last year by the US, UK, Canada and the EU, because of the human rights violations regarding Uyghurs. So I think when we talk about forced labour, we need to understand a little bit about also like history, the past history, but also today how it is playing a key role in the genocide and repression of Uyghurs and other Turkic people in the region as well.

James Cockayne  10:45

The historical context is clearly crucial to a nuanced understanding of what's going on. And indeed, President Xi's own father, was the Political Commissar for the Chinese Communist Party in the 1950s in the region, and present at the transformation of the region into the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. So this has a long and deep history, this complex relationship between the CCP, Chinese Communist Party and the region. Your families also have long and complex history in the region. And each of you have been directly and personally touched by these policies that we're talking about. Could I ask if you would mind sharing with our listeners a little bit about those impacts, perhaps beginning with you Zumretay?

Zumretay Arkin  11:35

Yeah, I mean, I was born and raised in Ürümqi the capital of the region. And I emigrated to Canada with my family members back in 2003. But just my immediate family, and maybe a couple of others, but all of the rest of my family are pretty much back home. And I have lost contact with them at the beginning of 2017, when there was the escalation of repression, when we started hearing news that the passports of Uyghurs were being confiscated, and that, you know, a lot of the international flights were being cancelled. It was a time when this region was becoming highly securitised, but also closed off to the rest of the world. So there was no information going in, no information going out. Also, our own relatives started cutting, you know, links with us in the diaspora, because even just maintaining contact with your relatives abroad, could be a factor of suspicion for the Chinese government, which of course, now with, you know, the available evidence, the multiple leaks of Chinese documents we know that having contact with family members abroad, especially if they're based in Muslim majority countries, that can actually be your reason for internment. So, at the timing, for us, it was very scary, because we didn't know what was really happening and why sudden, you know, change of policies, you know, were imposed. And so I haven't been able to speak to my family since then. But the only times that we hear news is almost every time when someone has received a sentence or has gone missing or has been interned. And these news we receive through media, or through different sources. And as of now I have I think over 30 of my relatives that are interned in camps or are missing, mostly because of their religious background, or because they were businessmen, a lot of business people in the family and also people of influence or because they had travelled abroad to Muslim majority countries in previous years. So these were the main reasons. But also I know that, for example, my aunt is being questioned a lot by the authorities by the local police officers, her home is often raided in the middle of the night, just because of her connection to me. And of course, as an activist, I know that I am, you know, being monitored by the Chinese government that everything that I do, my digital footprint is somewhere there and that every single action is being closely monitored by the government. So they know also about my family. So this is actually common practice that the Chinese government uses the hostage diplomacy where they threaten or harass your family members at home. So in an attempt to trying to silence you, especially if you're a high profile activist, or even if you're not a high profile activist, they will often use these tactics to really silence you even if you are living in these like free democratic societies. Even if you're not a Chinese citizen anymore. They have huge leverage, because you're family members are still back home. So I mean, other than this, I don't have any news about my family members, we're not allowed to go back. No, our family members are not allowed to come to us. So there's just like this disconnect and it's just frustrating for us because in our time or day and age where communication has never been easier, you're just one text away one phone call away from you know, family members or people around the world. And still, at this time, we're unable to speak to our family members. Just one simple hello on the phone. So I think if you speak to a lot of Uyghurs in the diaspora, this is a common thing.

James Cockayne  15:06

Are you in a similar situation?

Jewher Ilham  15:08

Unfortunately, all Uyghurs are in similar situations. Now, I can assure you, every single Uyghur - doesn't matter where they're located in any corner of this world, they have at least one to ten to even I know someone who has 70 distant family members have been impacted by Chinese government's brutal policies. I was born and raised in Beijing, actually. And my parents started working in Beijing, they moved to Beijing since they were teenagers. And growing up I always knew my father, even though he was living in Beijing, even though he moved to mainland China moved away from our homeland. At such a young age, his heart was always tied to our Uyghur people. Because since the 90s, when he was teaching in the university since he was a student, who has been gathering students and talking about politics and history of the Uyghurs and how to develop the Uyghur region to a better place for our people. And he has often been the target by the Chinese government for many, many years. And my father started a website in 2006, which captured lots of attention from not only inside China, but also overseas as well which a website called UyghurBiz which he wanted to create a platform for Uyghur people and Han Chinese to have a dialogue and understand each other. But that was considered a crime by the Chinese government. And he oftentimes spoke with journalists. He published articles, he spoke with media and different platforms, he spoke with the Chinese government officials to try to point out that discrimination is happening in the Uyghur region, Uyghur people have been forced to work in lower income jobs, even though they probably have a higher education background. And just because of their Uyghur identity, they have been targeted. And Uyghur people have not been able to practice their religion freely because of local governments restrictions, and he has been putting out those. But all these actions were considered as separatist moves, which now the Chinese government used to target a lot of Uyghurs and especially Uyghurs overseas who have been advocating for human rights. Therefore, my father was sentenced to life in 2014. When my father was arrested in 2014, the day before he was arrested was the last time I spoke with him. And I haven't seen him or heard from him since then. I am all alone in America, I accidentally came here as a teenager. I was not even planning to come to the US. I was not planning to stay here for more than two weeks, I was planning to accompany my father just to help him settle down since he was invited by Indiana University as a visiting scholar. And as you can see, here I am after nine years all alone, without a single family member with me, I cannot communicate with the rest of my family from my father's side at all and all of them had removed me from their social media, back in 2016, which was, as Zumetar mentioned, 2016-2017 was the escalation of those repressive policies. And those were when people start to fear for their lives, and they had to remove people. Even though their close family contacts they had to remove them from their social media or contact books in order to prevent themselves from being targeted by the Chinese government. And besides my father, my cousin was sentenced to 10 years for what? She was a nurse. But she was on her way to a shopping mall with her friends, regular weekend er weekdays where she just wanted to relax. But she was stopped at one of those checkpoints, which is regularly located every few blocks on the streets, just like in the airport, like a TSA where you have to go through a gate and scan yourself. And that's one of those checkpoints that she had to go through. And her phone was confiscated. She refused to turn in her phone because she did not believe she committed any crime. And the Chinese police found an article and a picture of my father. And that's the reason why she was sentenced to 10 years. She was just few years older than me; now she's spending the most beautiful years of her life in a prison and which applies to many, many Uyghur young ladies, young boys. Several of my uncles have been sent to re-education camps, for what reason? For doing business in Central Asia, which was with all the legal documents with all the legal process. They had their visas, they had their passports, they were not smuggling into the country. They were not doing illegal businesses. But just for visiting a country that is not China. They were sent to reeducation camps because, quote, unquote, they were exposed to extremist ideologies. And this is applying not only to my family or Zumretay's family. It applies to all, every Uyghur family that you see that you encounter, that you meet, or you have heard of. There's no escape. There's no one single person that can run away from this. Because the Chinese government made sure to target everyone. Just a few weeks ago, when I was in Europe during a work trip when I was interviewing a refugee, during my interview, my laptop was hacked in front of my eyes, my mouse was moving. And that was not the first time that it happened. Our IT team had to meet with me three times to be able to eliminate all the threats from my laptop, and it happens oftentimes with my phone as well. I don't know how many times I had to go through security checks for my laptop, because of the activism work that I have been doing for the past eight years.

James Cockayne  20:49

I think for those of us Jewher and Zumretay, who don't have to live with this enforced isolation from families with this shadow over our shoulder, every time we get online or move around, it's really very difficult to understand how incredibly difficult this must be for you. And we would forgive you, I think, if the reaction that you had, was to take cover, and to seek to avoid being visible. And yet here you are on a podcast, your names well-known. And you're speaking out on these issues. That's really quite amazing. And shows incredible fortitude. How do you bring yourselves to do this? It must be an incredible struggle. Jewher, how do you have the courage? How do you find the courage to speak out on these issues?

Jewher Ilham  21:52

I think it's how my father set an example for me. He knew he was going to prison. He was sent to house arrest multiple times I was house arrested with him multiple times, my entire family, my three year old brother, my eight month old brother were sent into house arrest with him multiple times. He knew he was going to be sent to prison. He told me he knew and he said I might be sentenced to 10 years, I might be sentenced to 20 years. As long as there's no death sentence, it's okay. If my sacrifice can bring better life for my people that's worth it. He knew he was going to prison and he still chose the life that he chose, he still chose to speak up for my people. He was harassed, he was beaten, he was followed. We have a bugging device in our living room. Growing up, I was used to having a bugging devices in my living room, but my father continued. We had police sleeping in our living room coming into our home like it's their own own home. But he continued, and I'm living in a free world in the United States. What is my excuse? What is my excuse? My own father is serving a life sentence. My own cousin is serving a 10 year sentence. So many of my other family members are in re-education camps in and out in and out there, get released, get sent back get released and sent back again, what is my excuse to stay silent? At the same time I understand people who choose to be silent because they want to protect their other family members who are not locked up yet. I use the word ‘ye’t because you never know. So I don't blame those people. But for me, after having a father who set an example, I just couldn't sit back and just watch and pretend like nothing happened, I could not do that. And with the work that we've been doing, I have seen progresses, I've seen push backs, I've seen more pressure from both the Chinese side like positive pressure from the US, that negative pressure from the Chinese, that I've seen both. But whenever I try my best to see the positive side. Just yesterday, I talked to another refugee. She had four members of her family were released from those camps, because of the pressure that has been coming from the west. And because of those economic pressure, because of those sanctions, it had helped. And that makes me hopeful. Because I hope one day those four numbers can be expanded to 40 can be expanded to 400 to 4,000 and the millions and all those innocent people might be free because of the efforts from me, from Zumretay, from you, from anyone who's listening to this or from anyone who's trying to do something you never know. And I hope this can create a butterfly effect that can just without us seeing but it can go somewhere and effect somewhere in this world and make some Uyghur person in any corner of this world to have one family free or 10 family members free and that's what kept me going. It’s frustrating waking up sometimes knowing hundreds of 1000s. Millions of people are suffering it's hard going to sleep is hard. Waking up is hard. Having to restart your life looking at the sun, eating a chocolate enjoying an ice cream. It's hard, because you imagine, oh, those people don't have food, they probably forgot how ice cream tasted, they probably forgot how chocolate looks like. So that's what keeps me going.

Zumretay Arkin  25:10

I was reading Jewher's book recently, which I suggest everyone to read, I think her struggle is, you know, she showed extreme bravery and advocating on behalf of her dad, just when she was, you know, a teenager, and without understanding really what was happening in the world about understanding even, you know, the real politics and all of these things, she did a lot of sacrifices, and she is courageously standing up for not only her father, but also her people. And I think it's true, it's a constant struggle. It's a dilemma that all Uyghurs, we have, especially the activists, the high profile ones, because we paid huge prices. Actually, we didn't pay anything, it's our family members who paid the heavy price for our activism. So living with that, on your conscience, knowing that maybe you were the responsible person for their, you know, sentencing or death or whatever, unfortunate things are happening to them. But at the same time, I think it's important that we don't go into that vicious cycle, because it only can harm us. Standing up is necessary at this point in time, because we don't have the luxury of staying silent on these issues. Because if we the victims stay silent, then no one else is going to advocate for us, it always takes the victims themselves to push these things on the global agenda, to push stakeholders, to push policymakers towards these questions and towards action. We have to remind the world that this is necessary, because people like us are suffering. And we're not just talking about, you know, 10 or a dozen of people, we're talking about 20 million, and even more people who are suffering in these dark times. So I think even if I stay silent, the Chinese government is not going to save my family. It's too late for this, especially, you know, with the mass internment started in 2016. And all of the sophisticated system surveillance system that they have put in place, the forced labour schemes. This is me staying silent, me choosing to stay silent is not going to change the policies that are implemented by the government. So might as well just speak out and make sure that we're being heard by global actors, and that there are solutions that are brought to the table. And I am seeing this, I started working in this, you know, activist or human rights world three years ago, and I have seen in just three years, so many changes, I would never have imagined that, you know, issues like Uyghur human rights issues, or Uyghur forced labour being adopted as a key agenda point at the G7 summit for two years in a row, I would never have imagined this, I would never have imagined companies issuing statements related to abuses in my country, I would never have imagined all of these things. But here we are. And this is the result of our advocacy efforts, not only Uyghurs. But the allies that we have formed along the way. Allies, like yourself, other civil society organisations, other groups unrepresented or repressed groups, other activists, policymakers, government officials, and institutions. So I think together, we can work towards solving this and towards ending Uyghur genocide, and also towards creating mechanisms that ensure accountability for the victims, whether it's at international level or at domestic level, I really believe in that collective effort and the results that yields from these efforts.

James Cockayne  28:41

The commitment and passion and belief that you're both showing, living every day is absolutely staggering, really inspiring. I don't feel that I have any mandate to thank you, but just as one person to two others who are making incredible choices every day over and over again, I'd like to thank you both for what you're doing. You make it all sound very sensible and reasonable. But it must be incredibly hard. And there are many people I'm sure, listening, who are inspired by what you're doing, and the changes that you're making. Listening to you both it's encouraging to hear about this progress and these incremental changes. Maybe drawing on your expertise, not just from your lived experience, but from your domain area expertise, maybe I can drop down now from this inspiring level to something a little more practical, and maybe in a way banal, but that's how change is going to happen through practical grind, and ask each of you, what are the immediate changes you'd like to see and let's maybe talk about a particular audience for these requests. Let's start maybe with the US government, which is already doing a lot with the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act. But what else would you like to see happen in Washington on these issues? Maybe start with you Jewher.

Jewher Ilham  30:04

First of all, I'd really love to see the expansion of the current Entity List which now is 10 entities and it will be great to see this list to be expanded which because the fact is that there are way, much more entities out there that is implicated in forced labour practices, and having a longer list is going to be helping other companies to have a guidance of who they should not be working with. And also, one other thing that I’d like to flag is that that the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act is not the end, it should be only a start. The enforcing is of course, the key and the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act is only those goods that are tainted by Uyghur forced labour from the Uyghur region is stopped at the US border, but does not prevent those goods from going to elsewhere. So for the US government to encourage other companies to pass similar laws, and for companies, they need to make sure that they should not be hypocritical and they should apply a single standard to all their market goes and to not, when they're blocked from the US border, they should not be transferring it to Canada, to Australia, to EU to UK to Japan, and end up making those countries a dumping ground for forced labour tainted goods and they should they already have a perfect guidelines from the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act which they know what they should do, who they should not be sourcing from and what they should not be sourcing. They should apply that to all their markets. And the only way for brands to ensure that they're not sourcing from Uyghur forced labour, it's to extricate from the Uyghur region completely it's, they've had two to three years of time to prep for this moment. And they should not be sourcing from forced labour at the first since the beginning. And now they have had few years from articles from WROs to prep them. And companies should not be complaining that Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act is making their life harder, because if a brand cannot profit without having their products made with forced labour, they should not be doing business at the first place.

James Cockayne  32:10

Indeed. Zumretay? Are those the priorities that you would nominate as well? Or are there other things?

Zumretay Arkin  32:15

Yeah, I think you know, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act is extremely essential, because it does set a precedent because it is the first legislation around the world that really tackles this issue specifically. So as I just mentioned earlier, the G7 summit just ended in Bavaria, and they have adopted this eliminating Uyghur forced labour from global supply chains as a priority for these countries. And I think, you know, the UK have also prohibited you know, the imports of forced labour products in their health supply chains. Also Canada and Australia, they're also considering, you know, import bans on these products coming from forced labour. So I think these steps need to be taken, especially by these governments that are raising these issues constantly at the UN or elsewhere. I think their words have to match with their actions. And I think legislation is key. And of course, we are awaiting the EU directives on due diligence in September that will be announced by the EU Commission. And we hope that this text of this legislation, the proposed legislation will be strong enough to give enough remediation not only for the victims, but also give enough clarity as well for different stakeholders, companies, civil society organisations and others. I think, you know, at the legislative level, there must be action that has to be taken, because we have to make sure that modern slavery is eliminated. We cannot tolerate forced labour, profiting off forced labour of others in our day and age, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are very clear. And if companies are not in a state where they can operate in a very transparent and open way, and if they are operating in regions or places where there are grave human rights atrocities happening, they have to, you know, start asking questions around and if they don't receive clear enough answers, then that must trigger something. And that has to have an impact on their businesses as well. So I think we have to keep putting pressure on companies. And I think companies are starting to realise that this is becoming a really big problem, not only for, of course, their operations, but also for the safety of their employees, also for their reputation, for their income and their access to the Chinese market, but also I suppose their markets elsewhere as well. And I think a big part of the solution is also on the consumers, consumers must be aware of the situation and they have to be willing to make the right choices basically, you know, if you know that a certain brand is directly implicated in these forced labour schemes, then maybe you should start boycotting or maybe not buying from this brand up until they stop this behaviour. I think as consumers, we have a lot of leverage. And I think we can make better choices to work towards a better and sustainable world, a world without financing atrocities that are happening in a strange land or somewhere else. I think our voices really have an impact. And I think talking about this, also, like online or also to your elected officials is also key in making sure that this issue is being tackled in, in various forms and different levels. International bodies, institutions have also a big part of this responsibility, because, for example, the ILO, which actually is, you know, International Labour Organisation is supposed to tackle these issues. They acknowledge this issue and incorporated the issue, of course, in their latest report, but it took years. So this issue has to be addressed at the ILO, at the UN. And of course, this has started happening, but we need more and we need accountability mechanisms, and we need some sort of remediation processes, as well for the victims of these atrocities.

Jewher Ilham  36:09

There are a few more points, I wanted to add in a few other steps that we can effectively implement the Forced Labor Prevention Act. Well, earlier I mentioned about the expanding the Entity List. And also I think we need to emphasise the need for the enforcing agencies to require companies to trace their supply chains all the way to raw material levels, and to disclose that information. Also, we know that most products that have been coming into the US that contain content produced in the Uyghur Region come through third party countries now. That is why we have been emphasizing, and we need to continue to emphasise, the need for supply chain disclosure and transparency. And in order to meet the law's goal to significantly reducing or eliminate the demand for products made with forced labour, Uyghur forced labour, we really need to, I hope to see the CBP enforcing the law not only on shipments directly from the Uyghur region, but also for example, actively on imports from some of the largest garment producing countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia, which they're all major destinations for yarn and fabric containing cotton from the Uyghur region. Another thing that I wanted to mention is the - we need to emphasise that the impossibility of conducting independent audits within the Uyghur region because of the nature of surveillance. And as I mentioned that growing up I had bugging devices in my own living room. And so imagine in the Uyghur region in those factories. There's a completely lack of free speech, any forms of freedom of expression in the Uyghur region. Therefore, we really need to expect this CBP to issue extremely, extremely few exceptions to the rebuttable presumption. And to because the rebuttable presumption means that they're going to assume any products coming from the Uyghur regions is tainted by forced labour unless there's clear and convincing evidence. So I think the CBP needs to maintain a very high bar on the nature of the clear and convincing evidence in this part, which the companies have to submit in order to import a product that was produced in the region. And also, I think it will be helpful if those companies to see public reporting from CBP against their competitors. Recently, CBP already told us that they have been stopping shipments at the border since the law went into effect last month. So when companies see CBP is indeed actively enforcing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, including on importations from third party countries, they will come into compliance more quickly.

James Cockayne  38:54

Well Jewher and Zumretay, you both lay out a huge agenda of work that's ahead. And I think as you both make clear, speaking up is at the beginning of all of that. At the centre of modern slavery and forced labour is the effort to deny somebody their personhood, their agency, their voice. I think we're incredibly lucky to have advocates such as you speaking up and speaking out on these issues, and pushing for action. So I'd just like to close by thanking you both for everything you have done and everything you continue to do, to advocate not just with generalities, but with the kind of specific ideas that you've just been laying out, a real programme for action. I think it's incumbent on all the rest of us to stand there shoulder to shoulder with you and help you see that action realised as soon as possible. So thank you again for everything you've done, and for your time and energy today.

Jewher Ilham  39:55

Thank you so much.

Zumretay Arkin  39:56

Thank you so much for having us and talking about this. important issue.

James Cockayne  40:01

Thanks for listening to this episode of Xinjiang Sanctions presented by me, James Cockayne. You can find out more about our research project at, where you can download our study, our policy briefs and explore datasets on government, Chinese and corporate responses. Thanks to the University of Nottingham Rights Lab and to our funders, the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office for their support with this research and the podcast which is available on all major platforms. Don't forget to subscribe if you're interested in accessing all the episodes from the series.