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An Insight: China's Labour Conditions

China has recently come under attack after discovering the working conditions that their detained Uyghur population are subject to. Uyghur Muslims are a small minority mostly in South West China, who are oppressed due to their religious views. In late 2020, leaked evidence exposed China’s ‘re-education camps’ as forced labour camps that mass produce’s clothing for the fast fashion industry. Australia is one of China’s biggest export customers with over 83 international retailers benefiting from Chinese manufacturers who use Uyghur labour (1).

A recent report from Non-Governmental Organisation, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) discovered 380 camps in northwest Xinjiang Region, 40% more than previously thought. Additionally ASPI published a list of 83 international retailers that had ties to factories through their supply chains – many of whom Australian citizens benefit and purchase from. Here, Uyghurs were transferred from Xinjiang to factories across China where global retailers are benefiting from their forced detention. ASPI presents strong evidence of forced labour within these ‘re-education’ camps, identifying 27 factories in 9 Chinese Provinces that are mass producing supply chains for well-known global brands including Apple, Nike, Sony, Samsung and Volkswagen. It is estimated that more than 800,000 Uyghur’s were transferred out of Xinjiang detention camps to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019 (2). Of this 800,000, 600 Uyghur Muslims were transported out of XinJiang and forced into Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co where they manufacture shoes for its largest global customer - Nike. Uyghur workers are forced to participate in the labour explorer programme through fines, threats or violence (2).

ASPI further detailed that Uyghur workers may be subject to the following conditions;

- Intimidation and violent threats to one’s personal or family’s safety if not compliant to orders

- Arbitrarily detained from family, fenced and/or sold into factories

- Abusive working conditions including political indoctrination, militant style management as well as a ban on religious practises

- Excessive work hours while under intruding high surveillance

While many NGO’s and human rights activists across the globe have attempted to hold China accountable for its violations of human rights, China continuously denies these accusations. It is important to question yourself the reasoning as to why fast fashion clothing is cheap and the conditions in which they are made. If a products price range is considerably less than normal, there’s a reason for it. We can all take conscious steps to ensure we shop and support local and ethical brands that uphold basic fundamental human rights along with dignity and respect.


By Kalliopi Mentis

First Year Representative

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Reference List:

  1. Ruser, N., Xiuzhong Xu, V. and Leibold, D., 2020. Uyghurs For Sale. [online] Available at: <>.

  2. Ruser, N., Xiuzhong Xu, V. and Leibold, D., 2020. Uyghurs For Sale. [online] Available at: <>.

  3. Hess, Steve. "Dividing and Conquering the Shop Floor: Uyghur Labour Export and Labour Segmentation in China's Industrial East." Central Asian Survey 28, no. 4 (2009): 403-416.

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