Mr. Guy Ryder
International Labour Organisation
4 Route des Morillons
CH-1211 Genève 22
Re: China’s widespread and systematic program of forced and prison labour of Uyghur workers
Dear Director General,
On behalf of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project (URAP), we urge you to speak out forcefully against the government of China’s widespread and systematic program of human rights abuses in the Uyghur Region, including forced and prison labour targeting Uyghur and other Turkic and/or Muslim peoples solely on the basis of their ethnic identity.
It is estimated that between 1 and 1.8 million1 Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples have been
arbitrarily detained and subjected to programs to “cleanse” them of their “extremist” thoughts
through re-education and forced labour. Scholar Adrian Zenz notes that the regional government
work plan for 2019 mandated that everyone who is capable of working must be trained and
employed, and that “the entire region has become a site of involuntary labor assignments.” The
Chinese government denies the use of forced labour, relying on references to “poverty
alleviation” programs, despite abundant and detailed evidence from international organizations,
national governments, and direct testimony from Uyghur victims.2 The breadth of this policy
creates significant risk of forced labour at virtually any workplace, industrial or agricultural, in
the Uyghur Region. In addition, Chinese factories outside of the Uyghur Region have been
shown to be benefitting from the forced transfer of Uyghur labourers where they are working
under conditions that strongly indicate forced labour.
The Chinese government has ratified ILO Convention 111, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race (inclusive of ethnicity) and on the basis of religion. China has also ratified Convention 122, which requires states to “pursue, as a major goal, an active policy designed to promote full, productive and freely chosen employment” and also to ensure “there is freedom of choice of employment and the fullest possible opportunity for each worker … irrespective of … race… [or] religion.” The ILO Committee of Experts has interpreted Convention 122 such that the prevention and prohibition of compulsory labour is a “condition sine qua non of freedom of choice of employment.” While China has failed to ratify Conventions 29 and 105 prohibiting forced labour, it is still bound to respect, promote and realise the prohibition of forced or compulsory labour pursuant to the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
As the global body charged with promoting the rights of working people worldwide, the ILO cannot remain silent in the face of clear and explicit crimes against humanity. We urge you to speak out in your personal capacity at the earliest possible opportunity to denounce the exaction of forced labour of millions of Uyghur workers. We urge you to use your position as Director General to encourage the ILO Governing Body, at its next session in March 2021, to issue a resolution condemning the government of China’s brazen violation of its obligations under the 1998 Declaration and under the conventions which it has ratified.
The ILO must live up to its obligation to promote internationally recognised human and labour rights, including taking a stand against forced labour—wherever it occurs. Likewise, the ILO must not remain silent in the face of this pattern of egregious human and labour rights violations in the Uyghur Region today.
Thank you for your attention.