International Labor Organization orders mission to China over labor abuse charges

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International Labor Organization members decided Saturday to send a mission to China amid allegations of discrimination against Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang region.

The ILO’s main annual assembly adopted a committee finding to send a “technical advisory mission” to China to “assess the situation,” stopping short of a higher-level investigation, as requested by the United States, Britain and other countries.

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During the more than two-week International Labor Conference, the committee tasked with assessing China’s compliance with global labor practices had heard allegations, vehemently denied by China, of systemic labor violations especially targeting Uyghur and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

In its conclusions, adopted in full by the assembly Saturday, the committee “deplored the use of all repressive measures against the Uyghur people, which has a discriminatory effect on their employment opportunities and treatment as a religious and ethnic minority in China.”

It issued a long line of recommendations to Beijing, including to “immediately cease any discriminatory practices against the Uyghur population and any other ethnic minority groups, including internment or imprisonment on ethnic and religious grounds for (a) de-radicalization purpose.”

It urged Beijing to accept an ILO technical advisory mission and asked it to provide a report by September 1 with information on how it is applying the labor convention against discrimination in employment.

China reacted angrily to the findings, with government representative Qian Xiaoyan insisting that ILO committees should not be used as a “political instrument of some Western countries to smear and denigrate China.”

The committee review came after a group of 20 UN labor experts in February voiced their “deep concern” after evaluating the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in China.

They had assessed allegations by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in late 2020 that Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang were systematically being used for forced labor in agriculture.

Rights groups also say at least one million Uyghurs have been incarcerated in “re-education camps” in the western region.

Beijing flatly denies all such charges, and maintains the camps are vocational training centers aimed at reducing the appeal of extremism.

Since China has not completed its ratification of conventions against forced labor, the committee review focused only on the country’s adherence to Convention 111 against discrimination in employment, to which it is party.

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