Over the last two years, the government of Pakistan has forced Google and Apple to take down apps in the country created by developers based in other nations who are part of a repressed religious minority.
The move is part of a crackdown led by the country’s telecommunications regulator targeting the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Adherents, called Ahmadis, number about 4 million in Pakistan. Though Ahmadis identify as Muslim, Pakistan’s government views them as heretics, and a 1984 ordinance forbids them from “posing” as Muslims, adopting Islamic religious practices, and referring to their houses of worship as mosques. Pakistan is the only country to declare that Ahmadis are not Muslim.
Ahmadis have faced persecution for decades, including an attack in 2010 that killed 93 people. But the pressure on multinational tech companies from Pakistan’s telecom regulator, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), signals a new willingness to target religious minorities beyond its borders. It is also one of the first examples of governments using anti-blasphemy rules to force international tech companies to censor content.
At issue are seven religious apps created by the Ahmadi community in the United States, published under the name “Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.”
Three of the apps contain “the exact same [Arabic] text found universally in all versions of the Holy Quran,” as well as commentary from the Ahmadi perspective, according to their descriptions. They are still available on app stores in other countries. All of these have been taken down by Google in Pakistan. In addition, there are four other apps, which include an FAQ on Islam and a weekly Urdu-language news magazine, that the PTA is pressuring Google to remove, but which have not been taken down.
Asked to comment, a PTA spokesperson directed BuzzFeed News to the department’s website.
“Our services make search results, videos, apps, and other content broadly available, subject to local laws, taking into account human rights standards,” a Google spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “We challenge government orders whenever appropriate, and when we’re required to remove apps and other types of content that don’t violate our policies, we try to do so in the least restrictive way possible.”
Apple did not respond to requests for comment, but a notice from Apple to the app developers, dated May 17, 2019, said it was taking one of their apps down from its store in Pakistan because it “includes content that is illegal.”
Pakistan most recently sent takedown notices for Ahmadi content to Google and Wikipedia on Dec. 25, 2020, according to a PTA press release. Two days later, Google took one of the Qur’an apps down, said Harris Zafar, a spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the United States. (There’s no indication that Wikipedia took down any Ahmadi content in response to the request, but the Wikimedia Foundation did not return a request for comment.)
A few weeks later, a group of Ahmadi community leaders spoke with Google executives.
“[Google] indicated that they had raised the human rights concerns to PTA but were told that they would have to stop their business in Pakistan if they did not remove the Ahmadi content,” Zafar said. “We were certainly surprised … We thought once we raised the human rights aspect, they would do what is right.”
The PTA also ordered shut a US-based Ahmadi site, TrueIslam.com, threatening its administrators with criminal charges that carry a $3 million fine. The decision may not be enforceable, since the people who run the site, including Zafar, do not live in Pakistan. But it does mean they may face charges if they travel there, which means Zafar can’t visit his extended family.
“This is a disturbing development and nothing short of an attempt to weaponize Pakistan’s blasphemy laws against US citizens,” wrote a lawyer who represents the site’s administrators in a letter to Pakistani authorities.
Pakistan is one of several countries, including China, Vietnam, Germany, Nigeria, and Russia, that have data localization rules to exercise greater control over tech platforms. When tech companies store data or have offices in a country, they must comply with local laws.
The PTA issued new rules late last year that give it broader powers to block online content. Those rules allowed it to censor content online that could, in its view, harm the government or threaten the security of Pakistan.
The Asia Internet Coalition, an industry group whose members include Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, opposed the decision, writing in a letter to the regulator on Dec. 5 that the rules would “prevent Pakistani citizens from accessing a free and open internet.”
Zafar said the PTA had been pressuring Google since 2018 and Apple since 2019. Ahmadi developers have made other versions of the Qur’an app in the years since, each of which the companies have taken down following PTA orders.
Google took the Ahmadiyya community’s first Qur’an app down in September 2018. After objections, Google reinstated the app and held a meeting between the company and the developers the following March.
According to notes from the meeting, a Google executive asked if they would consider taking the word “Muslim” out of their name to avoid offending Pakistan’s government.
“No,” one of Zafar’s colleagues, an Ahmadi lawyer, replied. “This decision will have a major impact, a precedent that will empower Pakistan to continue with this, due to validation from one of the world’s major corporations.”
The meeting ended without a resolution, Zafar said, and in October 2019, Google took the app down again. Apple removed the same app from its store in May.
Zafar said he was disappointed.
“All Google has done is capitulate to PTA and censor our community,” Zafar said. “This exacerbates the human rights abuses against us as it validates Pakistan’s basis of the persecution. If there are alternative solutions, we would like to hear them, but to date Google has offered no alternatives.” ●
Google has threatened to pull its search engine from Australia, a country with more than 20 million internet users, if the government implements a law that would require tech platforms to pay news publishers for displaying news stories in search results.
“If this version of the [media] Code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia,” Melanie Silva, Google’s vice president for Australia and New Zealand, told the country’s Senate Economics Legislation Committee on Friday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The statement was followed shortly after Facebook, which appeared with Google at the Senate hearing, asked the country for a six-month grace period to let it make deals directly with news outlets before it was subject to the code.
Google and Facebook have been negotiating the code with the Australian government since December 2019. The country has long sought to be the first to force the two tech platforms, which suck up most of the world’s digital advertising revenue, to pay for displaying content from news publishers who have been directly hit as a result. The move could have ripple effects around the world, including in the United States.
Hours before Silva’s remarks, Google agreed to pay news publications in France for displaying content. But in Australia, the company argued that requiring platforms to pay for links would break a fundamental principle of the internet — the ability for sites to be able to freely link to each other.
“Just like you don’t pay to include a hyperlink in an email, websites and search engines do not pay to provide links to third party websites,” Google wrote in a blog post. “It would be like requiring the telephone directory to pay businesses to be able to include them — it simply makes no sense.”
In response to Silva’s remarks, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to back down. “We don’t respond to threats,” he told reporters in Brisbane. “Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia. That’s done in our Parliament. It’s done by our government. And that’s how things work here in Australia.”
In an interview with Chanel’s new culture podcast Chanel Connects, which premiered this week, the Pirates of the Caribbean star described a past incident when paparazzi dangerously attempted to get pictures of her by forcing a car crash.
“It is brutal for young women within this industry,” the Oscar nominee shared. “Being followed around 24/7 by packs of up to 30 men with their lenses, through my windows and being called a whore every time I left the house in order to invoke a reaction because the pictures were worth more if I was crying. Or being forced off the road, because they suddenly found that, there was a lot of money to be made out of car crashes. So, you’d have guys with cameras trying to force your car off the road.”
Looking back on the earlier years of her career, 35-year-old Keira—who shares two kids with husband James Righton—said that time in her life was “brutal” and she’s “incredible proud” to have survived it.
Solar power has built a reputation as a virtuous industry, saving the planet by providing clean energy. But the industry has a dirty underbelly: It relies heavily on Xinjiang — a region in China that has become synonymous with forced labor for Muslim minorities — for key components.
Over the past four years, China has detained more than a million people in a network of detention facilities throughout its Xinjiang region. Many of these camps contain factories where Muslim minorities are forced to work. The solar industry is overwhelmingly reliant on parts and materials imported from this region, where heavy government surveillance makes it nearly impossible for outside observers to assess if people are working of their own free will. However, there are few alternative suppliers for the components the solar industry in the US needs.
It’s a particular problem for polysilicon, the metallic gray crystal form of the element integral to making solar cells, which convert light into energy. In 2016, only 9% of the world’s solar-grade polysilicon came from Xinjiang. But by 2020 it provided about 45% of the world’s supply, according to industry analyst Johannes Bernreuter.
At least one major Chinese polysilicon manufacturer has close ties with a state-controlled paramilitary organization, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC). Last year, the US government slapped sanctions on the XPCC for helping Beijing carry out its mass internment of Muslims, and the US banned its cotton, citing evidence it was produced using forced labor.
The American solar industry faces a choice: ignore the risk of human rights abuses or develop costly new alternatives for an industry struggling to compete against more polluting forms of energy production.
Another major Chinese polysilicon producer said it works with “vocational schools” in Xinjiang, a red flag because the Chinese government has long used that term as a euphemism for internment camps.
The Solar Energies Industry Association, which represents solar companies in the United States, opposes the “reprehensible” human rights violations in Xinjiang and is “encouraging” companies to move their supply chains out of the region, said John Smirnow, the group’s general counsel.
“We have no indication that solar is being directly implicated, he said, “but given reports, we want to ensure forced labor is never a part of the solar supply chain.”
But as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, after promising to improve clean energy infrastructure in the US, the American solar industry faces a choice: ignore the risk of human rights abuses or develop costly new alternatives for an industry struggling to compete against more polluting forms of energy production.
China came to dominate the global polysilicon industry after it put tariffs on polysilicon imports from the US, South Korea, and the EU and ramped up domestic production, in apparent retaliation against US-imposed tariffs, in 2014. China is also one of the world’s biggest consumers of polysilicon, which meant it became less desirable for many companies outside China to compete because it was no longer cost-effective to export it there. In the years since, China’s polysilicon industry has thrived, not just in Xinjiang but in other regions such as the southwestern province of Sichuan.
“Most of the supply chain is concentrated in China, and most of the rest in southeast Asia is in plants owned by Chinese companies,” said Bernreuter. “There is no large alternative for the supply chain.”
But imports from Xinjiang have drawn the ire of lawmakers in the United States in recent months.
In the last Congress, representatives considered a bill that would have banned all goods from the region, a piece of legislation likely to be revived in the upcoming session. The House bill specifically targeted “poverty alleviation” programs that move Xinjiang’s Muslims to work in factories and on farms away from their hometowns.
“It’s almost impossible to confidently assess the labor conditions in Xinjiang.”
Since late 2016, the Chinese government has imposed a campaign that has included mass detention, digital surveillance, indoctrination, and forced labor on a population of about 13 million Muslim minorities in the far west region of Xinjiang, including ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs, and others. Non-Chinese people visiting Xinjiang are often heavily monitored or escorted by police officers, so it is very difficult for companies to audit their supply chains for forced labor, experts say.
“It’s almost impossible to confidently assess the labor conditions in Xinjiang just because it’s almost impossible to get a competent assessor into the region. And then their ability to interview workers, especially Uighur workers, is limited because of the surveillance,” Amy Lehr, director of the human rights program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, and the lead author of a report on forced labor in the region, told BuzzFeed News.
But US Customs and Border Protection already has the legal authority to ban imports from the region if it suspects forced labor has been used. The agency stopped a shipment of human hair from Xinjiang in July based on reports that the extensions were made using prison labor. In December, CBP seized shipments of cotton and computer parts from Xinjiang. This week, it banned imports of tomato and cotton products from the region over what it called “slave labor.”
“It’s quite possible solar companies could be scrutinized by CBP regarding Xinjiang-related forced labor risks in their supply chains even if there is no regional ban because this issue is getting more attention,” said Lehr.
The research group Horizon Advisory said in a report that polysilicon from Xinjiang frequently lands in the US.
“Those goods enter the United States from China both directly and via indirect trans-shipment and processing in several other countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam,” the report says, concluding that “exposure to forced labor is pervasive” in the industry, including in “solar panels imported and installed in the United States.”
Forced labor is typically used for manufacturing jobs that don’t require specialized skills. Some of these types of tasks, like breaking apart tubes of the material, are used in the production of polysilicon.
If the US did ban polysilicon imports from China, industry experts say US-based companies would have enough capacity to make up for the shortfall, but would face higher costs and other problems in the supply chain.
For one thing, other parts used in solar panels are dominated by Chinese manufacturing as well. Once polysilicon is made, it’s sliced up into tiny nuggets called “wafers.” The overwhelming majority of wafer makers are located in China. And compared to other parts of China, it’s cheaper to manufacture polysilicon in Xinjiang, where companies can receive large subsidies from the government and the cost of electricity, provided by coal plants, and wages are typically lower than in wealthier parts of China.
REC Silicon, a Norwegian polysilicon maker whose manufacturing facilities are based in the US, invested more than a billion dollars in building a polysilicon factory in Washington state. After the Chinese tariffs on US goods hit, the company had to first slow production and then completely shut it down in 2019.
And the industry could face more domestic difficulties ahead. An executive with Hemlock Semiconductor Group, a US-based polysilicon maker, told investors on Oct. 22 that he was “fairly convinced” a US government investigation into the solar supply chain is coming.
Most of Xinjiang’s polysilicon is made by four Chinese companies, which are among the six biggest suppliers of the material in the world. One, the Daqo New Energy Corp, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. With that comes transparency requirements that allow a better understanding of how it operates.
According to Chinese state media reports and the company’s website, it has close ties with a Chinese state-controlled paramilitary organization called the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) — an organization so powerful that it administers cities in the region. Known best in Chinese simply as “the corps,” its activities have included helping Han Chinese migrants settle in Xinjiang and administering farms. The XPCC issued a policy document in 2013 setting solar energy as one of its “development goals.”
In July, the US government put the XPCC under sanctions, saying it had helped implement Beijing’s mass internment policy targeting Muslims. On Dec. 2, the US banned cotton imports produced by the XPCC, citing evidence it uses forced labor.
The XPCC could not be reached for comment.
In public filings made in October with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Daqo disclosed that it gained “additional advantages” in electricity costs because the XPCC operates the regional power grid. The local state newspaper reported that XPCC paid Daqo subsidies amounting to more than 489,447 yuan (approximately $75,000). The companies received millions more in subsidies from the government of Shihezi, a city in Xinjiang administered by the XPCC. In a Chinese language press release, Daqo’s Xinjiang subsidiary has also noted that it’s considered an “innovative enterprise pilot unit” of the XPCC.
Daqo’s polysilicon plant is located just over 7 miles north of Shihezi City. Construction started in spring 2011, when an area of farmland the size of 110 football fields was cleared to make way for the plant. By 2013, it was complete, with large industrial buildings covering the site, linked together by a network of elevated pipes. In 2014, the compound was extended by a further 3 million square feet, and over the following two years, new buildings continued to be added. The latest growth of the plant took place over the summer of 2019. Another 3 million square feet were added at the southwest end of the compound, and parts of the site that had previously sat unused were filled in with buildings. The plant now covers 12.2 million square feet, the equivalent of 215 football fields.
Daqo could not be reached for comment, but has previously said it does not use forced labor “under any circumstances whether in its own facilities or throughout its entire supply chain.”
In Xinjiang, programs euphemistically described as “poverty alleviation” have been linked to forced labor, according to research by CSIS and other organizations.
“It would be unsustainable to have an industry built on coal and slave labor.”
One of the other big polysilicon makers in Xinjiang, GCL-Poly Energy, said it works with “vocational schools” in Xinjiang in an annual report. The government has long referred to the internment camps in the region as vocational schools. Chinese language news articles also say GCL-Poly takes part in poverty alleviation programs.
GCL-Poly could not be reached for comment.
The industry has to make a choice, said Francine Sullivan, vice president for business development at REC Silicon, the Norwegian polysilicon maker.
“It would be unsustainable to have an industry built on coal and slave labor,” she said. “Most people in solar think it’ll be greenwashed away from us. We don’t have to deal with it because we’re solar.” ●
ALMATY — China has built more than 100 new facilities in Xinjiang where it can not only lock people up, but also force them to work in dedicated factory buildings right on site, BuzzFeed News can reveal based on government records, interviews, and hundreds of satellite images.
In August, BuzzFeed News uncovered hundreds of compounds in Xinjiang bearing the hallmarks of prisons or detention camps, many built during the last three years in a rapid escalation of China’s campaign against Muslim minorities including Uighurs, Kazakhs, and others. A new analysis shows that at least 135 of these compounds also hold factory buildings. Forced labor on a vast scale is almost certainly taking place inside facilities like these, according to researchers and interviews with former detainees.
Factories across Xinjiang — both inside and outside the camps — tend to share similar characteristics. They are typically long and rectangular, and their metal roofs are usually brightly colored — often blue, sometimes red. In contrast to the masonry and concrete of typical detention buildings, the factories have steel frames, which can be erected within as little as a month. The steel frame is sturdy enough to hold the roof without interior columns, leaving more space inside for large machinery or assembly lines. Some of the biggest factory buildings have strips of skylights to let light in.
Collectively, the factory facilities identified by BuzzFeed News cover more than 21 million square feet — nearly four times the size of the Mall of America. (Ford’s historic River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan, once the largest industrial complex in the world, is 16 million square feet.)
And they are growing in a way that mirrors the rapid expansion of the mass detention campaign, which has ensnared more than 1 million people since it began in 2016. Fourteen million square feet of new factories were built in 2018 alone.
Two former detainees told BuzzFeed News they had worked in factories while they were detained. One of them, Gulzira Auelhan, said she and other women traveled by bus to a factory where they would sew gloves. Asked if she was paid, she simply laughed.
“They created this evil place and they destroyed my life,” she said.
The former detainees said they were never given a choice about working, and that they earned a pittance or no pay at all. “I felt like I was in hell,” Dina Nurdybai, who was detained in 2017 and 2018, told BuzzFeed News. Before her confinement, Nurdybai ran a small garment business. At a factory inside the internment camp where she was held, she said she worked in a cubicle that was locked from the outside, sewing pockets onto school uniforms. “They created this evil place and they destroyed my life,” she said.
In response to questions about this article, the Chinese consulate in New York quoted a worker from Xinjiang’s Karakax County who called allegations of forced labor in the region “slander” while speaking at a government press conference, saying villagers in the region are earning higher salaries and learning new skills. “We hope everyone can distinguish right from wrong, respect the facts and do not be deceived by rumors,” the consulate added.
Xinjiang’s industry is booming, and the region has one of the fastest GDP growth rates in China. Xinjiang exports a range of products, from clothing to machinery, and the US is one of the region’s fastest-growing markets. Xinjiang’s factories produce many goods that eventually make their way to US consumers. Apple, Nike, and Coca-Cola, among others, lobbied Congress this year to water down a bill that would ban the import of products made with forced labor there. (Apple has said it did not try to weaken the measure, and Nike has said it “did not lobby against” it.) The bill overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives in September, but the Senate has yet to debate it.
“Corporations should stop producing in, and sourcing from, Xinjiang,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium. “There is no way to produce responsibly in the region until the forced labor and broader repression ends.”
Nova and other labor rights advocates, as well as experts who have examined the abuses in Xinjiang, argue that forced labor is so widespread in the region that no company that manufactures there could conclude that its supply chain is free from it. That would mean that US consumers have no real way of knowing whether the goods they purchase from Xinjiang are tainted.
The Chinese government in Xinjiang surveils people so thoroughly and monitors interviews so closely that it is nearly impossible to independently assess if any one factory relies on forced labor. This is especially true given that economic programs, designed to move people out of poverty by moving rural farmworkers into factory jobs, effectively give cover for the government to conceal why a person might be working far from their home. But when factories are located inside internment compounds — cut off from the world by high walls and barbed wire — it beggars belief to claim workers are there willingly.
Detention camp factories are woven deeply into Xinjiang’s economy. The Washington, DC–based nonprofit research institute C4ADS compared the locations of the factories identified by BuzzFeed News to a database that compiles address information from China’s government registry for businesses. C4ADS identified 1,500 Chinese companies located at or right by the factories. Of those, 92 listed “import/export” as part of the scope of their business. BuzzFeed News found further information about these companies in corporate documents, state media reports, and other public data. According to trade data dating back to 2016, some of these companies have exported goods all over the world, including Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Panama, and France. One company sent pants to California.
One of these firms is Xinjiang Jihua Seven-Five-Five-Five Occupational Wear, which makes military uniforms. It has counted the People’s Liberation Army, the paramilitary People’s Armed Police, and China’s Public Security bureau among its customers, producing hundreds of thousands of pieces of clothing each year.
In its parent company’s 2019 annual report, the company is explicit about its participation in labor transfer programs. The company transferred at least 45 ethnic minorities “who do not speak Chinese” from southern Xinjiang to work, the report says. They stayed in shared rooms holding three or four people, according to the report, and they received a monthly food stipend of 360 yuan (about $55).
An article in the state-controlled China News Service said the company’s workers at its Hejing branch were laboring overtime to fulfill a clothing order for protective coveralls, having already skipped a vacation that the factory manager said was offered last year. The workers also attend “bilingual night school” to learn Chinese. Every Monday, they hold a flag-raising ceremony and sing the praises of the Communist Party’s policies as well as “socialist thought with Chinese characteristics in the Xi Jinping new era.”
The way these workers were treated tracks with China’s known behavior in the region. The government’s anti-poverty campaign moves impoverished ethnic minorities referred to as “surplus labor” to jobs ranging from picking cotton to sewing clothing. Local policy documents refer to these workers as having “lazy thinking” and praise the government for “creating an atmosphere that labor is glorious and laziness is shameful,” according to recent research on Xinjiang from the German scholar Adrian Zenz.
Zenz and other researchers say these “labor transfers” can be a front for forced labor, especially in an environment where Muslim minorities live in fear of being arbitrarily locked up. As part of its campaign targeting ethnic minorities in the region, the government has also crushed education in minority languages. Dozens of ex-detainees told BuzzFeed News they were forced to study Chinese in internment camps and regularly praise the ruling Communist Party.
One of Xinjiang Jihua’s registered addresses matches the location of a large complex of internment facilities, which together can hold 11,700 people. This sprawling installation lies just over 3.5 miles from the center of Hejing county, in an isolated area bounded by empty plots of land and an industrial estate to the north and farmland to the south. Six blue-roofed factory buildings sit in their own compound right in the middle of the complex. They appear to be linked directly to adjacent detention buildings via a gate in the wall.
Xinjiang Jihua did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Another company, Hetian Yudu Handicrafts, is registered inside a compound in Lop County in southern Xinjiang; satellite photos show it bears the telltale signs of an internment camp. A state media article about labor transfer programs in the area quotes a Uighur woman, who went to work there weaving carpets, promising to earn a “surplus” for the company. Hetian Yudu did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Labor transfer for Uighurs, Kazakhs, and Xinjiang’s other minority groups extend beyond the region to other parts of China. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a Canberra-based think tank that has published research documenting human rights abuses in Xinjiang, in March identified 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces using Uighur and Kazakh workers from Xinjiang under a government labor transfer program. Refusing these work assignments is “extremely difficult,” the institute found, because they “are enmeshed with the apparatus of detention and political indoctrination.”
In many cases, Chinese language state media articles show photos of migrant workers who appear to be ethnic minorities boarding buses or working on assembly lines. The articles say that they’re participating in a poverty alleviation program. But they’re subject to strict controls and constant surveillance, and live in fear of being sent to camps or otherwise punished if they don’t comply. After work, they must participate in “patriotic education,” according to former detainees and Chinese language news articles about the programs.
A white paper published by the Chinese government in September offers clues into the scale of the program, saying the average “relocation of surplus labor” per year topped 2.76 million people.
According to state media reports, efforts to alleviate poverty in Xinjiang comprise a wide range of industries ranging from textile factories and food processing to livestock slaughter and cotton farming. It’s unclear what portion of workers in these programs are being forced to work, underpaid, or otherwise mistreated. But experts say the number is large and growing.
“Research suggests that some of those transferred to work are not willing and are severely underpaid, raising concerns about forced labor, potentially at a significant scale,” the Washington, DC–based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies found. The US Department of Labor estimated that 100,000 Uighurs and other ethnic minorities are working in forced labor.
The Better Cotton Initiative, an industry group that promotes ethical standards for cotton producers, told the BBC this month that it had stopped auditing and certifying farms in Xinjiang in part because the poverty alleviation schemes cast the shadow of forced labor over the entire industry there.
The abuses in Xinjiang may affect the supply chains of some of the world’s most recognizable brands. In its March report, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute also identified 82 multinational companies with suppliers that used Uighur workers outside Xinjiang as part of a labor transfer program, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Dell, Apple, Amazon, H&M, Nike, Nintendo, General Motors, and others.
Some brands said they stopped working with those suppliers this year, according to the Institute’s report. Others said they had no contractual relationships with suppliers involved in labor transfer programs, “but no brands were able to rule out a link further down their supply chain,” the report says. Apple said in July that it had found no evidence of forced labor on its production lines.
Nurdybai turned 28 this year. She’s a busy woman, with a toddler she dotes on and a fledgling garment business she’s started in her new home in Almaty, Kazakhstan. In person she is fresh-faced, with perfectly microbladed eyebrows and wisps of bright green shadow brushed across her eyelids.
Her ordeal started in 2017. At the time, she was running a tailoring shop and a second thriving business selling traditional Kazakh-made clothing in China, called Kunikai Clothing. The company employed about 30 people and specialized in the intricate embroidery found on traditional Kazakh clothing, even offering training and consulting on the complex designs, according to public records. A photo that year shows her posing at a trade expo in the regional capital of Ürümqi, wearing a sleek black sheath dress and big dark sunglasses. She was hands-on in her factory — another old photo shows her explaining to workers how to cut fabric, the cuts marked with a chalked-on dotted line.
One night in October 2017, she returned from work so burned out that she immediately turned her phone off and collapsed into bed. She later found out that the police were looking for her that night and had phoned several of her relatives to try and reach her. The next morning, they called again, and then came to her door.
She was taken to a camp not far from where she lived in the county of Nilka, located in northeast Xinjiang, near the border with Kazakhstan. Located in the Kashgar River Valley, Nilka is small and remote, and manual labor is embedded in its history — one of its few tourist sites are the ruins of an ancient copper mine.
The camp was growing quickly. It seemed to Nurdybai that dozens of people were coming in each day, often wearing hoods so they could not see. “You could hear the clinking of their shackles as they came in,” she said.
There was no heating, and she shivered all the time in her thin uniform. There were 16 women in her dorm room. Inside, she was given a book of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speeches. Instead of running her tailoring shop or fulfilling clothing orders, she would now spend three and a half hours each day studying Xi’s speeches. She couldn’t understand why. Soon enough her days would be filled with labor.
BuzzFeed News; Source: Alison Killing
Forced labor has a long history in Xinjiang that predates the detention campaign. Some lower-security prisons were linked to farms, while many high-security prisons contained heavy industrial facilities, such as a smelting plant for lead and zinc, fertilizer plants, and coal and uranium mines. A few contained buildings for light manufacturing.
Factories started appearing in the makeshift camps of the early detention campaign in spring 2017. Often they appeared as a single factory wedged onto the site wherever there was room, squashed between the existing buildings, or built on the sports field of a former school. At the same time, new and expanding high-security facilities also added factories, typically in larger numbers.
With the explosion of factory-building in 2018, new patterns emerged. The piecemeal addition of factory buildings on cramped existing sites continued. But the detention compounds on the edge of cities, which had more room, expanded to accommodate new factories that were typically arranged in a neat grid and often separated from the main compound — by a fence, or even a road with barbed wire walkways connecting the two. The factory area often had a separate entrance from the surrounding roads, allowing raw materials to be delivered and finished goods to be picked up without disturbing the wider camp.
While some of the new factories have been built in higher-security facilities, they are more often found in lower-security compounds, and they appear to be for light industry — manufacturing clothes rather than smelting zinc or mining. Much of the construction since 2017 has been concentrated in Xinjiang’s south and west: the regions with the highest numbers of Uighur and Kazakh people.
Hotan prefecture, for instance, contains nearly a third of the factories built between the start of 2017 and the end of 2020. Two counties within it — Hotan and Lop — saw 1.9 million square feet and 1.8 million square feet of factories built there respectively during that time period.
Forced labor in Xinjiang ramped up in 2018, according to researchers and news reports. One ethnic Kazakh factory owner from northern Xinjiang, who asked that her name and company be withheld out of fear of retaliation, described the government’s relentless efforts to round up workers that year. BuzzFeed News was able to verify details about her company’s registration. “I was an entrepreneur. I had a small garment factory,” she said. “I had to go through a lot of bureaucracy, but I did it.”
In 2018, police officers visited her factory five times, asking her to recommend workers to be “reeducated” in order to meet a quota. They told her to look for behavioral slights — using a ceramic bowl with Uyghur-language writing on the bottom, for instance, or repeatedly wearing a headscarf for women.
“We had heard that mass detention had occurred, that people were disappearing into these schools. We didn’t know much but we knew that it wasn’t a good place.”
All five times, she managed to fob them off, offering bribes and excuses.
The business owner had heard rumors that the internment camps were not for education, as the government claimed, but mass detention. “We had heard that mass detention had occurred, that people were disappearing into these schools. We didn’t know much but we knew that it wasn’t a good place,” she said. She was afraid of being sent to a camp herself, but she could not bear to hand over the names of her workers either. “I never sent a single person to the camp,” she said, a note of pride creeping into her voice.
Government officials also told the entrepreneur about poverty alleviation programs, saying that people could get jobs in other parts of the country, which ethnic Kazakhs sometimes call “inner China.” A group of people from her village departed for one of these programs, she said. They returned in six months and told her they had been paid much less than they were originally promised, she said.
By May 2018, Nurdybai was moved to another camp in Nilka County — one of several in which she’d been held. That summer, the camp contained two residential buildings and several blue-roofed factories, with two more under construction, satellite images show. The first buildings in the compound — two five-story residential buildings and 11 factories — had likely been built by late 2015. By the time Nurdybai arrived, an additional 15 factories had been added, covering the grassy field at the northern end of the site.
Much later, after she had moved to Kazakhstan, Nurdybai found the location of the camp herself on Google Earth. It looked strangely familiar. Yet, by then, it had grown even more.
In October 2019, construction started on four more factories, but the workers only finished building the steel frame before the first snow arrived in the second week of November and they had to stop work. They finished by May of this year, and three further factories were added this fall. There are now 33 factory buildings in the compound. Together, they cover 428,705 square feet, an area larger than seven football fields.
Nurdybai stayed at the camp for a couple of months before she was ordered to work in one of the factories in the camp. When officials realized she had worked in the garment industry in the past, she was told to teach other women how to sew clothes — school uniforms, she remembered. She taught them how to sew square pockets on the tops of the tunics and how to sew a collar straight.
“It was a huge place. There were so many women in there. They were all like me — prisoners,” she said.
She said she was paid a salary of 9 yuan — about $1.38 — in a month, far less than prevailing wages outside the walls of the detention camp.
It was a short walk to work — the distance from the residential buildings to the nearest factory was only 25 yards or so, while the farthest, on the opposite side of the site, was still just five minutes away. The women would work from 8 a.m. to noon, she said, and after lunch, again from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. After the nine-hour day, they were required to take classes back in the building where they stayed, memorizing and repeating Chinese Communist Party propaganda and studying Mandarin Chinese.
The factory was equipped with new sewing machines, Nurdybai remembered. In fact, all the equipment inside looked new. But there were clues that those who worked there were not doing it by choice. Pairs of scissors were chained to each work table to prevent the women from taking them to the dorms, where they could, in theory, use them to harm themselves or stab the camp’s guards. And there were cameras everywhere, Nurdybai said, even in the bathrooms.
Inside the factory building, the floor was divided up, grid style, Nurdybai said. It was not like the factories that she had seen while running her own business. “There were cubicles at about chin height so you couldn’t see or talk to others. Each had a door, which locked,” she said, from the outside. Each cubicle had between 25 and 30 people, she said.
On one occasion, one of the camp staff justified the locked cubicles by saying, “These people are criminals, they can seriously harm you.” Police patrolled the floor of the factory.
Nurdybai ate with the other workers and slept in the same quarters as them. But, she said, her position as a trainer gave her one special privilege: She had a key fob with which she could open the doors to the bathroom. Others had to ask for permission to go.
Near the end of Nurdybai’s time in internment camps in September 2018, police officers finally told her what she was said to have done wrong: She had downloaded an illegal app called WhatsApp. She was later released and told her “education” was over. Her boyfriend at the time brought her a bouquet of flowers, as if she had just come home from a long trip.
But in the time she spent in the camps, her life had fallen apart. She owed a bank 70,000 yuan, or about $10,700, in business loans, on which she had been unable to make payments while she was detained.
Her clothing orders, too, had sat unfulfilled. “They took everything from my factory — expensive materials — they took it,” she said. “My customers, I had to pay them back.” She began selling off her possessions, even her car, to try and pay down the loan.
“I’ve learned to cherish my freedom.”
Eventually, she saved up enough money to leave China and immigrate to Kazakhstan. She is still paying back her loans in China, though she managed to negotiate them down with the bank. Mostly she tries to take things one day at a time. “I’ve learned to cherish my freedom,” she said. “Before all this, I was successful. I had money. But now I understand that money is nothing without freedom.”
She started a small garment business again. She had a baby. And she began speaking out about what had happened to her, telling the story of how she lost everything she had worked for.
She went to the offices of Atajurt, a small human rights NGO located in a worn-down building in central Almaty. It didn’t have much in the way of resources — on a visit this year, a conference room door was broken and had to be held shut by a strip of red ribbon. But it had quickly become a hub for ex-detainees from Xinjiang’s camps, who often came to record their stories for YouTube, and to speak to journalists and university professors visiting the city.
Nurdybai’s workshop is in a small two-floor building tucked away in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Almaty, lined with houses and a neighborhood school. Inside, there’s just one window, with a narrow staircase whose railing is painted white. On the first floor, her workshop was strewn with scraps of fabric in purple and red, with two sewing machines set on tables.
She was a healthy woman before her internment. But after she was detained she developed a hernia, which still causes stabbing pains in her abdomen — she suspected she got it from being forced to sit for long hours while studying Chinese. Worse, she began to get migraines, which started with searing pain that moved up the back of her neck. She wondered if the ice-cold showers she had been forced to take could be to blame.
“I worked hard for 10 years to succeed,” she said. “I lost everything, including my health.” ●
Her side of the story. Ever since The Bachelorette‘s premiere, ABC has leaned into the rumors that Clare Crawley leaves the show after finding love early, seemingly with Dale Moss. While the network has not yet confirmed that story line — or the fact that Tayshia Adams comes in as a replacement — the hairstylist, 39, “liked” a slew of tweets on Saturday, October 24, seemingly hinting at the switch-up.
“I think they were trying to force her out on some real,” Bachelorette fan Marietou Sangare tweeted, defending Crawley’s portrayal on the show. The season 16 lead “liked” the tweet. “And I really feel like they are giving her a bad edit (just my opinion). They are feeding into the narrative and the rumors and making it seem like it was Clare’s decision that this ended and I feel like that’s not the case. They had Tayshia quarantined 9 days after Clare started filming. They wanted to remove Clare. And I just don’t think it’s fair.”
In other tweets, also “liked” by Crawley, the fan speculated that the producers planned a lot of it.
“Production knows exactly what they were doing. They’ve never had a lead just ‘quit’ and with how excited and how bad Clare wanted this, I doubt it. They were ready with a back up and as soon as they found out that Clare was into Dale it was a wrap,” the posts continued. “Don’t you see with how the last two episodes have been produced, there’s no drama and the drama that they’ve shown has been dramatized and fixated to make Clare look a certain type of way. Production has control over literally everything. They know what they’re doing.”
Crawley also “liked” a tweet about the reports that she and Moss, 25, spoke before meeting on night one.
“The rumours of them talking before hand are false I rather believe Clare and Dale’s sister when they said they was no contact,” the tweet read. “I’m hoping they are together because they are both great together.”
Us Weekly confirmed in August that Adams, 30, was brought in as Crawley’s replacement for season 16 after the Bachelor alum found love. In an interview earlier this month, the California native revealed to Us that she never even considered reaching out to any of the men beforehand.
“I knew that this was going to happen eventually where I was going to get the chance to meet these guys,” she shared with Us. “I didn’t want to kind of prejudge anybody and shoot myself in the foot by having these conversations and putting that at risk, because, it’s like, you only really know when you meet them in person and it can actually be around their pheromones to see them in person to know, do we have that connection? So if I was to start something up with a guy beforehand, it would just be doing myself a disservice … I’d be putting it all on the line for that? I mean, that makes no sense to me.”
The Bachelorette airs on ABC Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET.
Listen to Here For the Right Reasons to get inside scoop about the Bachelor franchise and exclusive interviews from contestants!
San Francisco-based food delivery company DoorDash is escalating its promotion of a controversial ballot proposition, sending bags emblazoned with “Yes on 22” to restaurants, which will then hand those same bags off to the app-based delivery drivers whose futures will be determined by that very prop.
As of publication time, companies like Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Instacart, and DoorDash have spent a combined $185 million to support Prop 22, a ballot measure that seeks to ensure that California’s ride-hail and delivery drivers are classified as independent contractors, despite a 2020 law that says that they must be classified as employees, and receive the wages, benefits, and other guarantees that full employment entails.
As the election has neared, the tech companies’ promotion of Prop 22 has “gotten more desperate,” says Maria Crawford, an organizer with the Gig Workers Collective. One example of this is Instacart’s prompt to shoppers to “retrieve one Prop 22 sticker and insert and place it in your customer’s order,” an initiative reported on by CNN this week.
Another is an email sent to restaurants that contract with DoorDash this week. In the email, restaurants are encouraged to request free bags for takeout, all of which will be emblazoned with “Yes on 22.” “Don’t worry about shipping or production costs — the bags are on us!” the company writes. All restaurants are asked to do is to “use the bags as you would any other takeaway bag now through Election Day.”
Of course, part of using those bags as they would any other would involve handing those bags to a gig worker to deliver, essentially forcing the delivery driver to promote a proposition that many say will deny them their rights.
“Oh my god,” said Crawford, when told about the email by Eater SF. “These companies are so used to exploiting workers, they’re going to push it further and further.”
It’s a conflict that prompted San Francisco’s District Attorney to sue the company this June, alleging unfair labor practices, and saying that DoorDash is “cheating their employees and cheating the state,” and that its business practices put “law-abiding companies in the position of competing against employers who gain unfair savings by illegally classifying their workers.”
These valuations, says Uber engineer and Prop 22 opponent Kurt Nelson, are one of the reasons the fight to keep its workforce at the contractor level is getting so hot. In an op-ed published on TechCrunch, Nelson says that companies like his want to continue to misclassify workers because they “are subsidizing the product with their free labor,” which makes the possibility that workers might have to be hired potentially devastating to the app-based companies.
According to California employment attorney Beth Ross, moves like DoorDash’s and Instacart’s “raises some red flags,” CNN reports. State labor codes “prohibit CA employers from controlling their employees’ political activities and requiring employees to adhere to the employer’s political views,” Ross says, but requiring delivery workers to ferry these political bags might be doing just that.
When contacted by Eater SF for comment, DoorDash directed us to yes on 22 spokesperson Geoff Vetter. “Each company is communicating with their customers in various ways because of the high stakes in this election,” Vetter says in defense of the bag initiative. “Hundreds of thousands of jobs are on the line, along with the app-based services millions of Californians rely on,” he said via email.
It’s an argument that perplexes Crawford, to say the least. “It would make no sense to me to carry a ‘Yes on 22,’ bag,” Crawford. “I’d basically be handing a customer a bag saying ‘yes on exploiting me.’”
A San Francisco restaurant owner, who declined to be named as they have a contract with DoorDash, tells Eater SF that the bag email has them thinking twice about continuing a relationship with the company.
“Giving drivers propaganda to deliver really crosses an ethical line,” the restaurateur says. But it doesn’t appear that every restaurant owner feels that way: when Eater SF clicked on the link the email provided to request bags on Friday morning, we received a message that “due to high demand for Yes on Prop 22 branded to-go bags, we are no longing [sic] accepting requests.”
Exclusive: Georgia doctor who forcibly sterilized detained women has been identified
By Tina Vasquez
According to the complaint, it appears as if detention center officials transfer women to an outside gynecologist, now believed to be Amin, and that detained women told Project South they do not trust the doctor.
Dawn Wooten, a licensed practical nurse employed by ICDC, has emerged as a whistleblower. “I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and they’ve had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going,” the nurse said in the complaint, noting that other ICDC nurses also expressed concern about the gynecologist, whom she referred to as “the uterus collector.”
A spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that has represented people detained at ICDC, confirmed to Prism that Amin has seen multiple women represented by the organization. The spokesperson could not currently confirm the extent of those appointments.
The Trump administration has become known for itsinhumane treatment ofmigrant women, pregnant people, and other vulnerable populations in the detention system.
According to the whistleblower in Project South’s complaint, Amin recently took out the wrong ovary on a detained woman. “She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one. She was upset. She had to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy. She still wanted children—so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can’t bear kids,” Wooten said in the complaint, explaining that the woman wasn’t fully under anesthesia when she heard the doctor tell the nurse that he took the wrong ovary.
The women do not appear to be consenting to getting a hysterectomy and they are not receiving translation services when complicated medical information is being conveyed to them. Sometimes nurses try to communicate using Google or by asking another detained person to translate, according to the complaint. In one incident, a woman was given three different explanations as to “what was being done to her body.”
This is unbelievably horrifying. The people responsible for this must be held accountable and all the so-called “pro-life” people should organize to seek justice on what is being done to migrants.
Conservative pastor in a whole lot of hot water after sending gross email to journalist By Walter Einenkel
The nasty email that Muns sentreads: “How about if we took all the little bitter Asian women and had a lottery and cut their clits like the Muslims do. Not a very classy position is it, neither is your trashy little bitter personality towards white men. Only in a world where journalism is controlled by brain dead Liberals do you people even have jobs.” He signs it “Muns,” and I guess we can forgive him the typos since the email also says it was sent from his iPad.He without sinand all of that.
Muns is the pastor at the Christian Life Church in Macomb Township, and is likely speaking in front of his flock as I write this (he reportedly holds services on Sundays at 10 AM and also on Wednesdays at 7 PM). According toClickonDetroit, Muns has yet to apologize to Jeong for not only being a tremendous misogynistic racist asshole, but also for attacking her based on a fake quote attributed to her that said white men should be castrated.
Muns reportedly sort of didn’t apologize on Wednesday, saying “My response is terrible, but what I was responding to was simply reversed of exactly what she posted towards white men and I just reversed it and said, ‘How would you feel?’”
Well, not great. How about Muns aims some of that Christian fire and brimstone hatred for the people allegedlysterilizing immigrant women in the name of racism and medical malpractice, under the umbrella of our conservative-run government?
Muns hasn’t really apologized. He’s just said that he shouldn’t have “responded.” Responded to the fake meme? Responded to it if it had been real? It’s interesting for a person like Muns to be caught up in this situation. It’s very revealing. For one, he was wrong. The information he’s pushing out there is as incorrect as the information he’s sending back about “brain dead Liberals” controlling the media. We don’t. Brain dead liberals share the facts and the information that is readily available to anyone with a legitimately critical mind. Sure, the media is controlled mostly by moneyed interests, which includes religious interests.
Another day in which another white man doesn’t know how to apologize. Or better yet, just shut up entirely and not say anything in the first place. Will they ever learn? One can dream.
I’ve made another video over on our YouTube channel! This time, all on debunking the lies that Trump has tried to perpetuate regarding affordable housing programs. The TLDR is that affordable housing options aren’t increasing crime in your neighborhood. Trump’s just a racist.
Remember a couple of weeks ago when Trump tried to scare us with Cory Booker of all people?
I’ll take this opportunity to remind you to please follow Daily Kos on our socials:
But that order was never announced. Officials from the Agriculture Department, the Treasury Department and the U.S. Trade Representative intervened to raise objections about the measure, saying it could threaten American cotton exports to China, or put the trade deal Mr. Trump signed with China in January at risk, people familiar with the matter said.
In their call on Monday, homeland security officials denied that any intervention prompted the delay, saying the legal review had been “driven by the unique nature” of the policy. “We want to make sure that once we proceed that it will stick,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.
Under a withhold release order, importers are still allowed to bring their products into the United States if they are able to provide proof to customs that the goods were not made with forced labor, for example through an extensive audit of the manufacturing facilities, said John Foote, a partner at Baker & McKenzie who specializes in international trade and forced labor issues. If the importer is not able to produce that proof, the product must be sent back, or it is subject to seizure by U.S. customs.
In August, labor and human rights groups including the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Uyghur Human Rights Project filed a petition asking Customs and Border Protection to issue a withhold release order on all cotton goods from the Xinjiang region.
“The system of forced labor is so extensive that there is reason to believe that most cotton-based products linked to the Uyghur Region are a product wholly or in part of forced labor,” the petition read.
Customs has issued several withhold release orders in the past against individual companies with ties to Xinjiang, including clothing makers Hetian Taida Apparel Company and Hero Vast Group. Other entities and people in Xinjiang have been subject to sanctions, including the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, an economic and paramilitary group that plays an important role in Xinjiang’s development, and Changji Esquel Textile Co. Ltd., whose parent company, Esquel Group, said it has ties to Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss and Muji. Esquel Group denies that it uses forced labor in its supply chain and says it is appealing the listing.
In July, the Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security issued an advisory jointly warning American companies to monitor their activities in China, particularly in Xinjiang, saying they could face “reputational, economic and legal risks associated with certain types of involvement with entities that engage in human rights abuses.”
[***]In all, as of late Friday, nearly one-fifth of the Combs district certified staff employees had advised they would be absent Monday. This “sick-out,” a strategy to fight these reckless, mostly politically-motivated decisions to reopen schools, was supported by the teachers’ union, the Arizona Education Association.
[***]Meanwhile, in Queen Creek, school officials are still pushing forward with reopening, despite the mass resignations. One chemistry teacher, the president of the Queen Creek teacher’s association, spoke to Good Morning Arizona about his decision to resign:
[***]“Safety,” he explained. “The plan we have to go back is not safe.”
[***]”It was a very heartbreaking decision,” he added.
[***]In response to parents who criticize his decision, he said “I do have a duty to provide a safe learning environment for my students. But Queen Creek Unified School District won’t let me do that. That’s their (district) choice. Not mine.”
[***]”Putting people in a room for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week is a recipe for disaster,” he said. “If we had a hybrid option and masks required, I’d be still be there.”
[***]The meetings that led to these reopenings in the first place are instructive. As reported by Lorraine Longhi, writing for the Arizona Republic:
[***]On Tuesday, the Queen Creek governing board voted 4-1 to reopen schools, which resulted in raucous applause from parents gathered at the meeting.
[***]It was an emotionally-charged meeting, where approximately 20 parents, teachers and students addressed the school board, with the majority urging the board to reopen.
[***]Those parents who pushed for the schools to reopen often couched their opinions in vehement terms, extolling their “personal freedom.”
[***]Most of the parents arguing for schools to reopen centered their arguments around wanting the freedom to choose between online or in-person classes. Joel Anderson, a Queen Creek resident, called Queen Creek a “freedom loving town.”
[***]“All we are asking the board for is the freedom to choose in-person education,” Anderson said. “Let the teachers and parents have a choice. We know that the group that is trying to deny the freedom of others is a vocal minority.”
[***]At the Queen Creek meeting, Braydon Cluff, a physics teacher, raised the point that teachers would have insufficient time between classes to thoroughly disinfect and sanitize their classrooms. His objection was met with derision by the school’s baseball coach, Mikel Moreno, who expressed the view that teachers had plenty of time to do that, saying “If you can’t do it in that time, then get another profession brother.”
[***]But the minority of parents who came out against the school’s reopening described a school district that was “tone deaf” to their concerns. For example, one parent, Robert Camunez, whose wife also teaches in the district, said the couple had applied 11 times to allow Ms. Camunez to teach from home, since she has a heart condition making her particularly susceptible to COVID-19 infection. The district denied all of her applications, making it clear to Camunez that remote teaching would not be allowed under any circumstances.
[***]According to theArizona Republic, none of the state’s counties meet the required health metrics for schools to reopen in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey continued last week to push the state’s schools to open their doors. As reported by The Guardian, this relentless push to reopen schools has devolved to the point where some school boards are now debating whether to set “casualty rates” for teachers:
[***]Elsewhere in Arizona, the debate over when to reopen schools remained at a standstill. In Lake Havasu, Arizona, the local school district pushed back the discussion of when to reopen schools to this coming week, the local paper reported.
[***]“At some point, we are going to have to come up with an acceptable casualty rate, and nobody wants to have that conversation,” one school board member said during last week’s discussion over reopening schools, a comment the editor of Today’s News-Herald, the local paper, called “chilling”.
[***]The pressure by Ducey and other Republican governors has, of course, come directly from the top, with Donald Trump and his billionaire heiress, non-educator Education Secretary Betsy DeVos alternatively threatening, cajoling, and blaming those schools who refuse to fully reopen. Despite these ham-handed efforts, most public schools in the country have now decided they cannot safely reopen and are proceeding with virtual instruction only. Those that have already tried to reopen are facing the same opposition from teachers and staff that is occurring in Arizona.
[***]Teachers have been routinely maligned by this administration. In speeches by Trump himself, in baseless accusations and condescension from his secretary of education, even in crass comments by Trump’s children, there has been a deliberate attempt to devalue teachers’ worth in the eyes of the public. The entire push to fully reopen schools without regard to the safety of teachers (or their students) is just the latest reflection of this dismissive attitude toward teaching and the teaching profession.
[***]And this mindset, unfortunately, isn’t simply limited to Republican politicians. When those Arizona parents were cheering on their local school boards for ordering the schools to reopen, they weren’t thinking about the teachers and staffs in those schools. Some of them may have been thinking about their “freedoms,” or some other ideological nonsense, but most of them were probably thinking of their own situations, and the unwelcome prospect of their kids staying home indefinitely. The fact that teachers are being asked to risk their lives and the lives of their own families by reopening doubtlessly registered, but only dimly, in comparison to their own needs.
[***]But teachers did not sign up for the job to risk their lives, and—as many Americans are realizing with discomfort—their jobs are considerably more critical than the so-called “essential” worker who drives the Amazon vehicle to deliver your packages, or even the Home Depot clerk who rings up the purchases that permitted you to do those home repair projects this summer. Nor is their job akin to that of a nurse or doctor who simply must be physically present to perform it. Teaching can be done remotely, virtually, or online. No, it’s not as effective, and yes, it does create inconvenience and sometimes great hardship for parents, but that is not the fault of the teachers: It’s the fault of our elected government officials—and most specifically the ones in this administration—who failed to formulate and implement a uniform strategy to keep both teachers and children safe.
[***]As Kareem Neal, Arizona’s 2019 Teacher of the Year explained in an op-ed published this weekend in the Arizona Capitol-Times:
[***][A]s students, teachers, and families agonize over what the next few weeks will bring, President Trump and Betsy DeVos have offered no leadership and no clear guidance on how to safely reopen our schools. Instead, Trump and DeVos have made reckless threats to cut off federal funding from our already-underfunded schools unless we give in to the administration’s demands to reopen — even as Arizona surpasses over 4,300 deaths due to COVID-19.
[***]Arizonans are grappling with the worst public health crisis of our lifetimes — and the Trump administration’s failed leadership has only exacerbated an already dire situation. To make matters worse, the responsibility of caring for kids has fallen on working parents, who are being forced to choose between going back to work and jeopardizing their children’s safety. In Maryvale, where I teach, families of color bearing the brunt of the pandemic, and paying the price for the President’s incompetence with their lives and their livelihoods. It didn’t have to be this bad.
[***]Teachers are not simply replaceable service providers that parents and school boards can “order” back into the classroom without providing adequately for their safety. To the contrary, in educating our children they perform what is probably one of the most important and irreplaceable functions in our society, although many Americans have been conditioned to take them for granted, just as the parents in these Arizona school districts did.
[***]That’s a harsh lesson that some people are still going to have to learn.