Countries to request ILO China mission to probe alleged labor abuses in Xinjiang

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A group of dozens of countries is set to ask the International Labor Organization on Thursday to set up a mission to probe alleged labor abuses in China’s Xinjiang, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

A committee at the UN agency is due to discuss China’s compliance with global labor practices on Thursday after describing its practices in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang as discriminatory in February, ILO documents showed.

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The meeting comes just days after the end of an historic trip by UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to China’s Xinjiang that has been widely criticized by both civil society and UN member states including the United States.

A so-called tripartite mission, if accepted by the ILO committee, would have the potential to shine a light on allegations that the mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang have been unlawfully detained, mistreated, and forced to work. China denies the accusations.

China is set to argue during Thursday’s talks that its laws, regulations and practices are fully in line with the principles with a Convention on Discrimination it has ratified, according to its written submission.

The sources, who declined to be named since the official requests have not yet been made public, said that dozens of countries were set to voice support for the mission.

China in April approved the ratification of two conventions on forced labor but they have not yet submitted the full documentation needed to take effect. This can frequently take weeks or months, an ILO official told Reuters.

Instead, the prospective ILO mission would evaluate China’s practices on the basis of conventions that China has ratified such as a Discrimination Convention.

Thursday’s committee, made up of government, employer and workers’ delegates, is set to make a decision next week on whether to accept the request for a mission, the sources said, and China is expected to respond to the committee’s conclusions in the next two months.

Sending a tripartite mission to China could be a first step toward further action.

As well as a tripartite mission, ILO members also have the option to seek a Commission of Inquiry to go to China, which would have even more investigative powers.

This requires a formal complaint. Some 35 such complaints have been filed in the ILO’s more than 100-year history, of which less than half have led to Commission of Inquiry missions, the ILO official said. In only one case were sanctions applied, against Myanmar in 1998.

China has been a member of the Geneva-based ILO since 1919 and has ratified many of its legally binding conventions.

Read more: China claims sabotage as UN rights official visits Xinjiang

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