China Hits Back at Call for UN Labor Body to Visit Xinjiang

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(Bloomberg) — China dismissed the need for a United Nations mission to review its labor standards in the remote Xinjiang region, after a committee branded its policies for Uyghurs as “discriminatory.”

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“We firmly oppose the unfounded accusation of the committee,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Monday at a regular press briefing in Beijing, responding to a question about whether China would agree to such a trip.

“The Chinese government stays committed to putting people first,” he added. “It attaches great importance to protecting the rights and interests of all workers, and protecting the equal right to employment of people of all ethnicities.”

A committee reporting to the UN’s International Labor Organization said in a June 9 statement that China used “repressive” measures against the majority Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority, creating a discriminatory environment. The report also “expressed grave” concern at authorities’ alleged efforts to pass “de-radicalization responsibilities” onto employers.

The statement called for China to accept an ILO advisory mission, with the support of the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Organization of Employers, and asked President Xi Jinping’s government to submit a report to the committee by September.

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China has been accused of running a state-sponsored forced labor program in Xinjiang under the guise of anti-poverty efforts, contributing to a broader genocide campaign that has seen as many as 1 million Uyghurs sent to reeducation camps. From June 21, the US will block imports from the far western region under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act unless companies can prove they weren’t made with forced labor.

While Beijing has categorically denied forced labor allegations in Xinjiang and calls the camps vocational training centers, it has pledged to improve labor standards. In April, the nation’s top legislative body decided to sign on to the Forced Labor Convention and Abolition of Forced Labor Convention, which were respectively adopted in 1930 and 1957 by ILO members. The move was dismissed by some Xinjiang scholars such as Adrian Zenz as “window dressing.”

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A spokesperson for the ILO said the committee’s conclusions didn’t say that a mission must involve a visit to Xinjiang, and earlier noted that it was a panel of independent experts rather than ILO personnel.

Last month, former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet became the first UN human rights chief to visit China since 2005. Her visit was largely panned by activists and scholars, who accused her of whitewashing China’s rights record and failing to acknowledge abuses in Xinjiang.

(Updates with comment from ILO.)

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