Slavery today: Chinese government-organized mass slavery, incl. 21st century cotton slavery, poses a new challenge for slavery researchers everywhere

Magnus Fiskesjö's picture

A new challenge for slavery research everywhere is now posed by the hard evidence of how China's government is organizing mass slavery of targeted indigenous people, as part of their racist campaign against the Uyghur, Kazakh and other ethnic minorities of China's western Uyghur region, known in Chinese as Xinjiang (lit. 'New conquest'), ca 15 million people in total.

No courses on slavery henceforth could be taught without incorporating this 21st century state slavery targeting minorities in China, including its 21st century slave cotton harvesters.

This is not the slavery of the shadows, that has been going on in many places around the world, after the 19th- and 20th century legal abolition of slavery in much of the world.

On the contrary, this is government-organized mass slavery carried out in the open, albeit under the covers of a media blackout actively blocking independent reporting on what is going on, plus state propaganda campaigns that dress up the dispossession and enslavement of the colonized peoples as "development."

The slavery centrally implicates the global textile and clothing industry, which gets 20% of its cotton from the slave picked fields of Xinjiang. With the blow-by-blow revelations that have emerged over the last year or so, some textile companies have been forced to pledge to stop sourcing Xinjiang cotton. However, not least due to evasive maneuvers of Chinese industry, much of it continues to be woven into the fabric of the global economy, practically in every man's wardrobe.

Other export products tainted by slave labor includes tomatoes (much of the world's ketchup is sourced from Xinjiang, where like the cotton it is produced through the settler-colonial military corporation called XPCC, infamously known as the Bingtuan); shoes and other clothing, women's hair, Covid protective supplies, and much more.

Much of the slavery takes place in occupied Xinjiang, where it often uses concentration camp detainees as workers, shuttling them back and forth between barbed-wire camps and daytime factories. The new punitive camp system have been built up since 2017 as part of a series of mass atrocities, including the mass sterilizations of Uyghur minority women, and the mass confiscation of children to state-orphanage Chinese-only schools, actions which starkly highlight the genocidal character of the Chinese state campaign conducted since 2017.

In addition, large numbers of young slave workers have been shipped to factories in eastern China where they are held prison-like in factories. Here the evidence includes numerous advertisements offering batches of slaves to factory owners, complete with police guards to prevent escape.

The victims of this transplanted slavery, which altogether removes indigenous people from their homeland, are often the able-bodied survivors of the concentration camps, which in themselves involve an identity conversion therapy intended to shed the minority people of their ethnic identity, language and everyday religion -- thus the state-organized slavery in effect functions as an integrated element of the genocidal campaign. 

In this comprehensive bibliography covering all aspects of the mass atrocities, slavery researchers will find many research and news reports on the new Chinese slavery, as well as a section with key highlights:     

Here is a selection of last week's widely noted reports on the cotton slavery:  

New evidence of Uighur forced labour in China’s cotton industry. BBC News. Dec. 14, 2020.

+ China’s ‘tainted’ cotton. BBC, Dec. 14, 2020.  


Coercive Labor in Xinjiang: Labor Transfer and the Mobilization of Ethnic Minorities to Pick Cotton. December 14, 2020. By Adrian Zenz.

+ as PDF:


Over 570,000 Uighurs forced to pick cotton in Xinjiang, report says. AFP / Hong Kong Free Press, Dec. 15, 2020.


UK says credible evidence of forced labour in China's Xinjiang region. Reuters. December 16, 2020.


+ On Dec. 18, 2020, the European Parliament, voting 604-20, adopted a Resolution condemning Uyghur slave labor, clearing the way for sanctions against the slavery, and for measures against Western companies profiting from it, extending the partial measures adopted by the US so far.


+ also see the call for action from the international Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region:

& this:

180+ Orgs Demand Apparel Brands End Complicity in Uyghur Forced Labour. 2020-07-23.


+ don't miss this report on how descendants of enslaved people in the US today are buying slave products from China;

‘Black gold’ - How global demand for hair products is linked to forced labor in Xinjiang. CNN, Oct 9, 2020.


Among the many pending research questions provoked by the massive new evidence of the Chinese enslavement of indigenous peoples, and how the world is implicated through supply chains and trade, is the overall looming question of "why."



Magnus Fiskesjö

Cornell University
Online bibliography (periodically updated) on the genocide in the Uyghur region (East Turkestan):

Magnus, Thank you sincerely for calling attention to the vast system of forced labor of Uyghur and other minoritized citizens in Xinjiang/East Turkestan Region in China. As Magnus mentioned, this system is effected through a collaboration between the Chinese government and corporations. Many US, EU, and UK corporations are benefiting from the enslavement of people from Xinjiang/East Turkestan, though almost all of them deny knowledge of their supply chain connections to this system.

I have recently written a couple of public-facing pieces that draw on research I've conducted on the forced labor of the Uyghurs, which may be of interest to readers on this list. The first, an op-ed in the Washington Post, discusses what is likely the US Customs and Border Protection's widest-reaching ban on imports in their history, specifically targeting the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps -- a massive state-run, militarized, corporate conglomerate that owns thousands of businesses and also runs its own internment camps, forces thousands of people to work, and produces more than 7% of the world's cotton.

The second is a brief I wrote for the UK government on the system of forced labor in the Uyghur region including specific recommendations for addressing the issue, which readers on this list might find useful as a primer on how this system operates and a resource for accessing primary sources on the issue.

I'm glad to see H-slavery considering this contemporary form of slavery, and I'll be happy to continue this conversation.


Laura T. Murphy, PhD
Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery
Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice
Sheffield Hallam University

Dear All,

Let me add my thanks to Magnus and Laura for providing this information. There is no reason why H-Slavery cannot build a page tracking this particular crisis, modern slavery and human trafficking more generally, or both if that's helpful. Just a reminder to our readers that H-Slavery is staffed by an all-volunteer force of academic editors and that there is no reason we cannot bring on additional contributors to help cover this topic. We can be reached at

Best wishes, 

David Prior
Editor, H-Slavery
Associate Professor of History, UNM

The global developments around mass forced labour in China, including as a component of the Uyghur genocide, continue to arrive, blow by blow: Here is a quick, incomplete update.

This cartoon by an Uyghur artist in exile, called @uyghur_man [  ]  hits home as it builds on numerous testimonies, of how not just average workers and farmers but Uyghur intellectuals are detained and then made slave laborers in Chinese companies. Here a scientist, a writer, and an engineer are reduced to a textile plant laborer, to imprisonment, and to a shoe factory slave.


Dr. Laura Murphy, who also posted here earlier, has traced export shoes that appear to come from this slave labor.  


Online, we often see unverified smartphone snapshots from these contained factories; also, numerous ads have been documented from Chinese slave labor providers, who advertise in Chinese to manufacturers, offering batches of young Uyghur workers of either sex, often several hundred each, complete with policing and total restraint.

Meanwhile, the global public movement sounding the alarm to consumers and governments, about the slavery built into supply chains originating in China's Xinjiang, and across China, is growing and it seems to be having an effect, as the staggering scale of the slavery is revealed more and more:

"The scope of forced labor in Xinjiang is bigger than we knew" ; and

Some commentators believe that as consumers learn more about the horrendous facts about slave labor in China, companies that do nothing about their supply chains are bound to suffer:
"Why Western Companies Should Leave China. Consumers will punish brands that rely on forced Uighur labor. While abandoning the Chinese market might hit profits, it will bolster reputations."

In one example of industries now acting in self-preservation, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) has announced it  stopped endorsing Xinjiang cotton, due to the “sustained allegations of forced labour and other human rights abuses” - which makes it ever more difficult for the global textile and fashion industry to look the other way.

Even so, many companies are clinging to their supply chains, when the slave labor links isn't obvious:

Yet the news from Japan, today, is that 12 major Japanese firms will end business deals involving Uighur forced labor.

In the US, members of Congress are reintroducing a bill to block trade in Chinese slave labor products from the Uyghur region,
... a bill that was stalled in the Senate after lobbying from companies like Apple, that are heavily dependent on China (  ;  ); yet imports of such products from China are down,
In the UK, there's currently a fierce battle in Parliament, over whether China trade should trump the slavery concerns. A cross-party majority apparently supports prohibiting the UK from making trade deals with countries engaging in genocide and in forced labor. But the Johnson UK government seems to prefer trade deals and has tried to block the vote(!).

This is similar to the EU, which in late December made a trade deal with China that scandalously includes only a token commitment from China to ratify and respect ILO international labor rights - "some time in the future" - even though everybody knows that will surely never happen, since China's system is built on state-corporate-domination of the workforce, and the regime refuses to allow independent workers' unions as ILO prescribes: (the deal has yet to be ratified by the European Parliament).

Meanwhile, German industry has been exposed as a lead enabler of the Xinjiang forced labor: German-made exports of machinery parts for Xinjiang’s textiles industry are soaring, despite evidence of forced labour:  ; as the German scholar Adrian Zenz noted, this means "German technology powers Xinjiang's textile industry - the core of forced labor",

A similar struggle is currently up in Canada's Parliament, where the human rights committee examined the situation over several years and determined it's a genocide (  ), but this has now turned into a political battle, possibly influenced by concern over the Canadian hostages detained by China:  ; yet meanwhile, Canada's government counsels against doing business with the Xinjiang region:

Earlier, in Australia, a surprise: the Minderoo Foundation condemned the “forced labour and human rights abuses against the Uighur population” in China -- this is the philanthropic arm of the iron-ore empire of Andrew Forrest, an Australian billionaire who's become rich on China trade, and who previously frequently and publicly defended China against any criticism.  

And so much more:


See too: Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region, Call to Action 2020.

Yours sincerely, Magnus Fiskesjö,

Today, shocking new evidence on how forced labor mass transfers is one of the key methods of the Chinese genocide against the Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other minorities:

New evidence of China moving Uighur minority workers in order to uproot communities - BBC News. March 2, 2021.
"A BBC investigation has found evidence that China’s policy of transferring hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities from north-west Xinjiang to factory jobs far from home is being used to uproot and assimilate the population. It's also uncovered possible connections between these workers and major international brands. China says transferring workers away from the region is a way of tackling rural poverty and unemployment. Huw Edwards presents BBC News at Ten reporting by China correspondent John Sudworth."

'If the others go I'll go': Inside China's scheme to transfer Uighurs into work. By John Sudworth. BBC News, Beijing.
"The Chinese government continually says that people are volunteering to engage in these programmes, but this absolutely reveals that this is a system of coercion that people are not allowed to resist."

Thousands of Uyghur workers in China are being relocated in an effort to assimilate Muslims, documents show. Xinjiang’s Muslim minorities have been moved to factories thousands of kilometres away to sever their ties to home and undermine their culture, internal documents and Chinese researchers reveal. Nathan VanderKlippe, Asia correspondent. DONGGUAN, CHINA. Published March 2, 2021. Updated. The Globe and Mail.

Coercive Labor and Forced Displacement in Xinjiang’s Cross-Regional Labor Transfer Program. A Process-Oriented Evaluation. Adrian Zenz. Jamestown Foundation, March 2021.

+ Zenz' explanatory thread:


+ simultaneous write-up in French:

EXCLUSIF. Un rapport chinois confirme la volonté de détruire les structures sociales ouïgoures. Dans sa dernière étude, que « l’Obs » diffuse en partenariat avec la BBC, le chercheur allemand Adrian Zenz détaille, à partir de documents officiels chinois, les « déplacements forcés » subis par les jeunes ruraux ouïgours. Pour les juristes, ces éléments prouvent que Pékin se rend coupable de deux nouveaux crimes contre l’humanité. Par Ursula Gauthier. L'OBS, Publié le 03 mars 2021 à 00h11.


... these reports will hit home in the EU, where the European Commission, in December, inexplicably signed a trade deal with China that rest on the assumption that China will respect labor rights (!!) ... and which the European Parliament is supposed to ratify (!!!); see previous posts in this thread ... and this recent update on US repercussions:


For more, see this online bibliography:

Magnus Fiskesjö

The challenge of China's contemporary slavery has arrived -- in America & in basketball.

Do Americans care about slavery? What if the slavery happens to others?


The spotlight now turns to U.S. athletes signing with Chinese companies, notably Li-Ning and Anta, that have declared they are OK with what’s going on in Xinjiang -- including the mass forced labor exposed there, especially in the cotton and textile industries, including in shoe-making, as explained in previous posts right here on H-Slavery.


As we’ve seen in the news, the Chinese regime is now organizing boycotts against any foreign company, such as Nike and H&M, that dare say they won’t source raw materials from the slavery-tainted Xinjiang region in China.

But now, the attention turns to U.S. basketball players currently profiting from deals with slavery-tained Li-Ning and Anta which say everything is OK:  

“China’s Forced-Labor Backlash Threatens to Put N.B.A. in Unwanted Spotlight: Lucrative endorsements deals with Chinese sports brands supporting Xinjiang cotton could pull the league and its athletes back into another geopolitical firestorm.” By Alexandra Stevenson, New York Times, April 9, 2021.  

The players listed are: 

Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors) - $80m deal with Anta

Dwyane Wade (N.B.A. champion/Miami Heat) - clothing line with Li-Ning (in the article, is featured in a photo posing with Gabrielle Union, pro-regime company man Li Ning, and pro-regime propaganda shill Jackie Chan).

James Wiseman (Miami Heat) - new deal with Anta

Alex Caruso (Los Angeles Lakers) - new deal with Anta this year

Precious Achiuwa (Miami Heat) - new deal with Anta this WEEK

Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat) - deal with Li-Ning

Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors) - deal with Li-Ning

CJ McCollum (Miami Heat) - deal with Li-Ning 

D’Angelo Russell (Miami Heat) - deal with Li-Ning 

--None would comment for the article.


This comes after basketball player LeBron James last year disparaged those raising concerns about China, where he too has been making truckloads of money. He has sometimes cited Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is an affront to justice everywhere”, but he maintains a strict silence about China and the gross injustice, genocide, and slavery going on there.


Human rights means nothing, if money is involved?


Magnus Fiskesjö