Bombardier investigating reported links to Uighur forced labour in China
Published Wednesday, March 4, 2020 4:50PM EST Last Updated Thursday, March 5, 2020 1:35AM EST
Flags fly outside a Bombardier plant in Montreal, on May 14, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Bombardier Inc. says it is concerned about a new report that links it and other companies to the alleged forced labour of Muslim minorities in China.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute says factories that claim to supply products to at least 83 global brands -- from Apple to Zara, Nike and Samsung -- exploited more than 80,000 Uighur Muslims who were transferred out of their home province "under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour" between 2017 and 2019.
The think tank draws on satellite imagery, media reports and Chinese government documents to uncover the connection between international corporations and Uighur and other ethnic minorities being forcibly displaced to more than two-dozen plants across the country, a scheme operating under a central government policy known as Xinjiang Aid.
Forty-one of those workers were transferred nearly 4,000 kilometres away to KTK Group, a Chinese company located west of Shanghai that makes rail equipment such as doors and seats and that counts Bombardier as a customer, states the report, titled "Uyghurs for sale."
Bombardier says it contacted KTK after the report came out this week to confirm the manufacturer is adhering to the Bombardier code of ethics it signed, and is awaiting confirmation.
"We take these allegations very seriously as all of our supplier contracts specifically preclude the use of forced labour," Bombardier said in an email.
A spokesman added that KTK did not supply any of Bombardier's Canadian transportation projects, which include Toronto Transit Commission streetcars and Montreal subway cars.
Human rights organizations have said that as many as one million ethnic Uighur Muslims in China's western Xinjiang region have been rounded up and placed in camps. China says it is trying to re-educate and integrate the Uighurs to make them better contributors to Chinese society.
"In factories far away from home, they typically live in segregated dormitories, undergo organized Mandarin and ideological training outside working hours, are subject to constant surveillance, and are forbidden from participating in religious observances," the report states.
The transferred workers are assigned minders and have limited freedom of movement, the investigation found.
"This report exposes a new phase in China's social re-engineering campaign targeting minority citizens, revealing new evidence that some factories across China are using forced Uighur labour under a state-sponsored labour transfer scheme that is tainting the global supply chain."
China's ambassador to Canada called reports of forced labour "a groundless accusation."
"There was nothing like the concentration camps or forced labour," Cong Peiwu told reporters Wednesday at the Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence.
"There is a saying: Even (if) a rumour is repeated 1,000 times, it cannot become a truth."
Cong portrayed events in Xinjiang as an attempt by regional governments to head off extremism and foster job skills.
"They took measures to establish vocational training centres. Students not only learn the laws and regulations and language, but also the necessary skills," he said. "So that's good for stability in the region."
The report paints a starkly different picture.
"It is extremely difficult for Uighurs to refuse or escape these work assignments, which are enmeshed with the apparatus of detention and political indoctrination both inside and outside of Xinjiang," it states.
The report authors also found that the threat of arbitrary detention hangs over minority citizens who refuse government-sponsored work assignments.
"Most strikingly, local governments and private brokers are paid a price per head by the Xinjiang provincial government to organize the labour assignments. The job transfers are now an integral part of the `re-education' process, which the Chinese government calls 'vocational training,"' the report says.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2020.
-- With files from Lee Berthiaume