Labor & Workforce

Cotton workers in Xinjiang: coerced or voluntary?

By Javier Garcia

Aksu/Urumqi, China, May 4 (EFE).- In a vast cotton field in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, four farmers look over a tractor sowing seeds that will later be watered by an automated irrigation system.

The field is located near Changji city, is situated some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, where forced labor is reportedly used in the cotton harvest.

Reports from controversial German researcher Adrian Zenz and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) claim that at least 570,000 people are subjected to forced labor in the fields of Xinjiang, China’s top cotton producer.

Zenz and ASPI also allege that hundreds of thousands of workers of ethnic minorities are coerced into labor transfer programs for picking cotton.

These allegations rely mainly on estimates from leaked Chinese government documents, since Zenz, whose reports are widely disseminated by the United States, think tanks, or German media outlets, has never been to Xinjiang.

Cotton cultivation and harvesting are fully automated in the northwestern Chinese autonomous region, according to data from the government of Xinjiang, where Han and Muslim Uighur minorities live.

 “We have introduced agriculture technologies since 2010. We have an irrigation system and machines for cotton planting and harvesting. Now we have a fully automated process,” farmer Hu Qingwen tells Efe.

Hu, who pays 360,000 Chinese yuan ($55,608) a year in field rental, says machines and tractors do all the work and that he only needs four workers to overlook the process.

The harvester tractor, manufactured by American farm machinery company John Deere, is the most expensive machine used in the process and it is rented from the state for 69,000 yuan.

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