U.N. labor agency details Beijing’s ‘coercive measures’ toward Uyghurs

Woman wearing mask with the words "Free Uyghurs"
A woman protests China’s treatment of its Uyghur population during a Chinese diplomat’s visit to Berlin.
(Markus Schreiber / Associated Press)
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An annual report from the United Nations labor agency Friday highlighted the work conditions of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s western Xinjiang region, noting signs of “coercive measures” that deprive workers of free choice in selecting jobs and calling on Beijing to provide more information about how it’s respecting their rights.

The report from an International Labor Organization committee of experts tasked with helping countries uphold their own international commitments emphasized the labor rights aspect of China’s policies in Xinjiang. Advocacy groups and Western governments, among others, have voiced human rights concerns over the treatment of the region’s Muslims.

The 870-page report also chronicled an array of concerns about scores of countries that, in effect, were urged to improve workplace and job conditions.


The 20-member committee of independent international experts cited the Chinese government’s defense, given in a different report, of what it calls vocational training centers in Xinjiang. Beijing says the centers are intended to help improve economic conditions and defuse extremist violence in the region.

“The committee takes due note of the view expressed in the government’s report that ‘some forces recklessly sensationalize the so-called “forced labor” issue in Xinjiang on various occasions,’ adding that this is ‘nothing but a downright lie, a dirty trick with ulterior motives,’” the International Labor Organization document states.

“The committee is bound to observe, however, that the employment situation of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China provides numerous indications of coercive measures, many of which arise from regulatory and policy documents,” the experts wrote.

Five years after China’s incarceration and forced labor campaign began, most Uyghurs abroad remain cut off from their families. Some are speaking out.

Feb. 2, 2022

They said “various indicators” pointed to the relocation of workers under security escort, the strict surveillance and “retention” of workers, and “the threat of internment in vocational education and training centers if workers do not accept ‘government administration.’”

The committee called on Beijing to provide more information about how its policies support “freely chosen employment” and prevents forced labor, and to provide information about the types of courses Uyghurs attend at the training centers and the number of participants.

A spokesperson for the Chinese diplomatic mission in Geneva, where the U.N. agency is based, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


The United States, which has repeatedly decried the conditions faced by Uyghurs, quickly responded to Friday’s report. The State Department issued a statement reiterating its call on China “to end its genocide and crimes against humanity perpetrated against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,” as well as the use of “forced labor.”