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US Solar Companies Rely On Materials From Xinjiang, Where Forced Labor Is Rampant



Stringer China / Reuters

A man walks through solar panels at a solar power plant under construction in Aksu, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, April 5, 2012.

This project was supported by the Eyebeam Center for the Future of Journalism, the Pulitzer Center, and the Open Technology Fund.

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.


Costfoto / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

A worker produces polysilicon quartz rods in Donghai County, Jiangsu Province, China, on June 30, 2020.

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.


BuzzFeed News; Google Earth

Satellite photos showing the construction sequence of Daqo’s polysilicon plant

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.” ●



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Celebrity

Nikki Bella’s in Labor & Artem Chigvintsev Is “S–ting” Himself: Watch


We’re just days away from the moment every Total Bellas fan has been waiting for all season: the arrival of Buddy Danielson and Matteo Chigvintsev.

Nikki Bella is on her way to the hospital in this sneak peek of what’s sure to be an emotional episode, and even though she’s starting to experience labor pains, it’s her fiancé Artem Chigvintsev who’s really feeling the pressure.

“What I’m nervous about the most is, you have a certain attachment to it, you know?” he tells Nikki in the above clip. “Like, I don’t have the same attachment because it’s not within me for nine months.”

The soon-to-be mom is quick to reassure Artem that he’s going to be “an amazing dad,” but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to worry about everything.

“Honestly, I’m s–ting myself,” the professional dancer admits in a confessional. “I’m sitting in the car thinking, ‘This is it.'”



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Breaking New

China’s Camps Have Forced Labor And Growing US Market


This is Part 4 of a BuzzFeed News investigation. For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here. For Part 3, click here.

This project was supported by the Eyebeam Center for the Future of Journalism, the Pulitzer Center, and the Open Technology Fund.

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.


Greg Baker / Getty Images

This photo taken on June 4, 2019, shows people walking past a screen showing images of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Kashgar, in China’s western Xinjiang region.

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.


Planet Labs

A camp in Hejing county with six factories.

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.


Ekaterina Anchevskaya for BuzzFeed News

Dina Nurdybai in her sewing workshop at her home in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2020.

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.


Courtesy Nurdybai via RFA

Nurdybai (left) demonstrates how to cut fabric to workers at a trade expo.

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.


BuzzFeed News; Source: Alison Killing

Camps with factories in Hotan Prefecture.

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.


BuzzFeed News; Google Earth

The camp at Nilka on June 27, 2019.

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.


Ekaterina Anchevskaya For Buzzfeed News

Dina Nurdybai working in her sewing workshop at her home in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Feb. 25, 2020.

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.” ●

Ekaterina Anchevskaya contributed reporting.



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Bernie Sanders Is Angling To Be Biden’s Labor Secretary


When a candidate wins an election, it is typical that they reward the people that supported them with plum positions in the cabinet. Donald Trump made Jeff Sessions his Attorney General and made Ben Carson the head of Housing and Urban Development.

If Joe Biden is to win the election, he will have to fill multiple positions with competent people. And some people are reportedly trying to angle for jobs. According to a new report, one of these people is  Bernie Sanders.

A source close to the Vermont senator told the website that Sanders is interested in becoming the next Secretary of Labor. “ can confirm he’s trying to figure out how to land that role or something like it,” the source says. “He, personally, does have an interest in it.”

Faiz Shakir, who ran Sanders’ presidential campaign, said, “He’s 100 percent in Joe Biden’s court. We’ve had a good working relationship with the Biden team and I expect we’ll maintain that all the way through.”

Shakir continued, “It would be great to have a unity government that takes into account that progressives are a pretty healthy portion of the electorate. Heeding that would be good, but if Joe Biden wins, he rightly has a mandate to move in whatever direction he chooses.”

When Sanders himself was asked about the report, he did not confirm or deny it. He told Politico, “Right now I am focused on seeing that Biden is elected president. That’s what my main focus is.”



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Swami Agnivesh, Crusader Against Labor Abuses in India, Dies at 80


Swami Agnivesh, a revered longtime campaigner against child labor and indentured servitude in India, died on Sept. 11 in New Delhi. He was 80.

His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by an associate, Zayauddin Jawed, who said the cause was multiple organ failure.

A pacifist Hindu monk who renounced worldly possessions and relations at a young age, Mr. Agnivesh led a decades-long crusade against village moneylenders, landlords and brick kiln owners who forced landless, debt-ridden farmers into bonded labor, or indentured servitude.

In 1981 he founded the Bandhua Mukti Morcha, or the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which he headed until his death. From 1994 to 2004, he was chairman of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.

“The country is diminished by his passing,” Shashi Tharoor, one of India’s most influential opposition politicians, wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Agnivesh was a prominent champion of many social justice causes and a trusted mediator when conflicts arose. He fought on behalf of tribal communities that had few rights to land ownership even though they populated much of the country’s forests. In the 1980s, when environmentalists objected to settling bonded laborers on protected forest land, he helped defuse the situation, working out a compromise whereby much of the forest would continue to be preserved.

In 2011, after Maoist rebels abducted five police officers, leading to an 18-day hostage crisis in Chhattisgarh state, in central India, he helped negotiate their release.

“He had a steely courage, and enormous compassion,” said Ramachandra Guha, a pre-eminent Indian historian who knew Mr. Agnivesh for over three decades.

In recent years, as Hindu nationalism continued to rise in India, Mr. Agnivesh was one of its biggest critics, saying the core values on which the republic was founded were under strain. He wrote last year, “The democratic space — where these values are meant to prevail — is communalized, polarized and poisoned with hate.”

John Dayal, a fellow human-rights activist, said of Mr. Agnivesh: “His main challenge was the fundamentalist Hindu.”

“The politicalizing of Hinduism and the hijacking of sacred symbolisms for political gains — he abhorred it all,” Mr. Dayal said.

Mr. Guha said he had admired Mr. Agnivesh’s “willingness to put his life on the line in defense of the inclusive and plural faith he himself practiced.”

Mr. Agnivesh was beaten many times; in one incident a mob of Hindu nationalists stripped, kicked and punched him, accusing him of inciting tribal groups to fight the government. He was convinced, he said later, that they had intended to kill him.

Swami Agnivesh was born Vepa Shyam Rao on Sep. 21, 1939, into an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family in the Srikakulam district of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

His father, Vepa Laxmi Narsinham, a farmer, died when Mr. Agnivesh was 4 years old. His mother, Sita Devi, a homemaker, died a year later. After he lost his parents, he was brought up by his maternal grandfather. He left no immediate survivors.

Mr. Agnivesh studied law and commerce at the University of Calcutta and, after graduating, became a professor of management studies at St. Xavier’s College in the Indian state of West Bengal.

He briefly practiced law, but soon left to work in the northern states of Haryana and Punjab, both of them notorious for bonded labor. For his work against child labor there he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for humanitarian work in 2004, given by a Swedish-based foundation.

Mr. Agnivesh spent 14 months in jail after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a national emergency in 1975, jailing political opponents and activists.

He fought against Mrs. Gandhi’s Indian National Congress party, was elected to the state Legislative Assembly in Haryana and was named a cabinet minister in Haryana. But he served just four months, pushed out after he protested against his own government, demanding an inquiry into the killing of 10 workers in an industrial township in a clash with police.

That episode led him to devote his life to fighting bonded labor.





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U.S. Restricts Chinese Apparel and Tech Products, Citing Forced Labor


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.”



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Entertaiment

Treat Yourself to Sephora’s Labor Day 2020 Deals


We love these products, and we hope you do too. E! has affiliate relationships, so we may get a small share of the revenue from your purchases. Items are sold by the retailer, not E!.

With the upcoming three day weekend, you have all the more time to shop, and Sephora has some great deals going on. You can find steep discounts on your favorite brands like Marc Jacobs, Too Faced and more right now.

Below, shop some of our favorite sale finds from Sephora, from perfumes to eyeshadows. You can also currently get free shipping on all orders using the code FREESHIP, plus extended returns.



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Celebrity

Here’s the coolest stuff to watch on Labor Day 2020


Barbecues and far-flung vacations might be iffy this Labor Day — but, luckily, TV can still take you on a journey from the comfort of your couch.

From old favorites to new releases and specials, here’s what to watch on the small screen on The Big Day.

The latest in Disney’s live-action adaptations of its classic cartoon films, this version of “Mulan” hews closer to the original Chinese folklore and cuts the animated version’s music numbers such as “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” The result is a gritty war epic following a young girl (Yifei Liu) who disguises herself as a man to fight for her country so that her ill father doesn’t have to. It has a premium fee of $29.99 if you want to watch it now, or you can wait until December and watch it at no extra cost to your regular Disney+ subscription.

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (Netflix)

Written, directed, and produced by auteur Charlie Kaufman (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) and based on a novel of the same name, this new psychological horror film follows an unnamed woman (Jessie Buckley) who considers breaking up with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) amidst the backdrop of increasingly surreal events.

Jessie Buckley stars in Netflix's "I'm Thinking of Ending Things."
Jessie Buckley stars in Netflix’s “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.”Mary Cybulski/NETFLIX

“Madagascar: A Little Wild: Part 1” (Hulu)

The latest entry in the animated “Madagascar” franchise follows animal pals Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo when they were kids in the Central Park Zoo

“Employee of the Month” (Amazon)

If you’re looking for your entertainment to be Labor Day-themed, this 2006 comedy follows Zack Bradley (Dane Cook), who’s on a quest to become the employee of the month at the retail store in which he works.

Dane Cook wants accolades in "Employee of the Month."
Dane Cook wants accolades in “Employee of the Month.”Lions Gate/Everett Collection

“Biography: The Nine Lives of Ozzy Osbourne” (A&E, 9 p.m.)

All aboard the “crazy train.” This 2-hour special looks at the life and antics of rock icon Ozzy Osbourne, 71, covering his childhood in poverty, his time in “Black Sabbath,” his solo career and his entry into fatherhood.

Ozzy Osbourne in 1989
Ozzy Osbourne in 1989Everett Collection

“Devil’s Road: The True Story of Ed and Lorraine Warren” (Travel Channel, 9 p.m.)

This 2-hour special follows the couple who inspired the “Conjuring” horror films. For over 50 years (mostly in the 1970s and ’80s), the duo were paranormal investigators examining hauntings such as the real “Amityville Horror” house. Their daughter and son-in-law, Judy and Tony Spera, appear in this special.

“The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons Ever!”(ABC, 8 p.m.)

The season finale of “The Bachelor” recap series looks at Juan Pablo Galavis’ stint in Season 18, which aired in 2013, to gear up for “The Bachelorette,” premiering Oct 13. Starring Clare Crawley, who was in Galavis’ season.

Clare Crawley and Juan Pablo Galavis in "The Bachelor."
Clare Crawley and Juan Pablo Galavis in “The Bachelor.”ABC

“Pool Boy Nightmare” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.)

If you’re in the mood for a tawdry, cheesy movie, this one’s out just in time to ring in the end of summer. The suspense thriller follows Gale (Jessica Morris), a divorced woman who gets involved with her pool boy Adam (Tanner Zagarino) — only to have events spiral out of control as Gale tries to end it and Adam becomes obsessed. Of course he does.

“Back to the Future” (Netflix)

All three “Back to the Future” movies are currently on Netflix, so why not make it a marathon? Follow Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) on his travels through time thanks to his eccentric friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd).

Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox in a scene from "Back to the Future."
Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox in a scene from “Back to the Future.”Universal/Everett Collection

“Miss Congeniality” (HBO Max)

This Sandra Bullock classic fits a Labor Day theme — if you squint. It follows FBI Special Agent Gracie Hart (Bullock) on an undercover mission at a beauty contest, as she goes above and beyond in the course of doing her job.

Sandra Bullock gets glam in the 2000 film "Miss Congeniality."
Sandra Bullock gets glam in the 2000 film “Miss Congeniality.”Warner Brothers/Everett Collection



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Jobs after coronavirus: The US labor market won’t bounce right back



It will take the labor market time to recover, but it’s unclear exactly how long.

The leisure, travel and hospitality industries have been hardest hit, but shutdowns have extended far into other sectors, such as manufacturing.

The March jobs report — which doesn’t take the most recent tide of joblessness into account — showed the unemployment rate ticked up to 4.4% from a near 50-year low of 3.5% and could reach double digits in April. Economists at America’s big banks estimate peak coronavirus-related unemployment to hit 15% or more. JPMorgan’s economists are forecasting a peak as high as 20%.

While the US economy is likely in a recession already, experts expect the downturn will be as short as it will be deep.

Once the virus is defeated and social distancing policies let up, the economy will bounce back — at least that is the hope.

For employment, that could mean a rapid rebound as well — for some. But not all jobs will magically reappear at once.

High expectations

When factories resume their regular output, and bars, restaurants and movie theaters finally reopen, many of the jobs that temporarily disappeared are expected to come back.

But this rebound may come at a slower pace than the initial downturn, Aaron Anderson, senior vice president of research at Fisher Investments, told CNN Business.

“Some economic activity has been lost, so companies might not hire back at the same speed,” he added.

Some businesses, particularly smaller ones that are more vulnerable to economic shocks, might fold under the sudden recession, eliminating the jobs they provided jobs altogether. Larger companies, meanwhile, may need to cut costs when they emerge from the crisis, said Simona Mocuta, senior economist at State Street Global Advisors.

“My view is that unemployment will spike, come back, but then take some time to heal,” Mocuta said. “If we make a full recovery, it’s more likely next year than this year.”

Moody’s expects an unemployment rate of 6.5% by year-end, compared with 3.5% in December 2019.

“We expect the unemployment rate to peak in the second quarter, and gradually climb down in subsequent months with a gradual resumption of normal economic activity,” said analysts at the ratings agency on Monday.

But it is hard to predict how the economy will behave in an unprecedented crisis like this with so much uncertainty about the path forward. Much will depend on how long the economy will remain closed, how deep the recession will be and how long the recovery takes.

Changing the world as we knew it

Economists also believe that the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent sheltering in place orders are exacerbating trends that were already unfolding, including the transition to shopping online rather than in stores.

Some brick-and-mortar retail jobs might never come back, said Mocuta, which in turn could affect the commercial real estate market.

Just as the economy will take some time to recover, so will consumer confidence. After weeks or months of social distancing, it might take time for Americans to eat out at restaurants and make travel plans again.

The outbreak also shone a light on America’s benefits, including paid sick leave.

Companies might adopt more worker-friendly benefit policies to protect their employees in case of another outbreak. But this would increase the cost per employee, and might make businesses more hesitant to hire.

On factory floors, where workers are already increasingly competing with robots that never take sick leave, some jobs are expected to disappear altogether over the next decades, as workers are being replaced with machines. Last year, Oxford Economics forecasted that 20 million global manufacturing jobs will be displaced by robots until 2030.

The pandemic could speed up this development further.



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George Clooney ‘saddened’ by reports of Nespresso child labor


The 58-year-old star, who has been the company’s brand ambassador since 2006, said he was “surprised and saddened” by allegations made in an upcoming episode of the UK documentary series “Dispatches” for Channel 4.

Journalist Anthony Barnett was given access to farms in Guatemala, which is the world’s 10th largest coffee producer. Footage obtained appeared to show children working for up to six days a week picking beans on plantations and moving heavy loads.

The documentary is set to air on Monday.

Addressing the investigation’s findings in a statement sent to CNN, Clooney, who is a member of Nespresso’s sustainability advisory board, said: “We knew it was a big project when it started 7 years ago, and honestly, I was surprised and saddened to see this story. Clearly this board and this company still have work to do. And that work will be done.”

He went on to say that he hoped Barnett, the Channel 4 reporter, “will continue to investigate these conditions and report accurately if they do not improve.”

Clooney signed off by reiterating that “the check and balance of good corporate responsibility lies not just with the company itself but also independent journalists like Mr. Barnett to hold everyone’s promise to account.”

Nespresso, which is a unit of Swiss food giant Nestlé, told CNN in a statement that it has “zero tolerance of child labor” and has launched a “thorough investigation” to identify the farms at the center of the allegations.

The company said it has stopped purchases of coffee from all farms in the region until they are able to guarantee child labor is not being used.

Nespresso said “any issues uncovered will be dealt with diligently and firm action will be taken. We will also double the number of agronomists that we have on the ground in the region and we will implement unannounced visits to check on compliance on social and labor issues.”

It added that it works alongside NGOs like the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade International “to reinforce good working practices and fair treatment of workers, including education on the risks of child labour. “

Han de Groot, CEO of the Rainforest Alliance said: “Our partnership with Nespresso, which reaches back more than 17 years, is focused on producing high quality coffee while also improving farmers’ livelihoods and the wellbeing of their families, workers and communities.”

This story has been updated.



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