Bombardier investigating reported links to Uighur forced labour in China

Bombardier Inc. says it is concerned about a new report that links it and other companies to the evident forced labour of Muslim minorities in China.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute says factories that claim to supply products to at least 83 global brands — from Apple to Zara, Nike and Samsung — are exploiting more than 80,0000 Uighur Muslims “under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour.”

The think tank draws on satellite imagery, media reports and Chinese government documents to uncover the connection between international corporations and the mass transfer of Uighur and other ethnic minorities from China’s Xinjiang region to more than two-dozen plants across the country.

Forty-one of those workers were transferred nearly 4,000 kilometres away to KTK Group, a Chinese company located west of Shanghai that makes rail equipment such as doors and seats and that counts Bombardier as a customer, the report states.

Bombardier says it contacted KTK after the report came out this week to confirm the manufacturer is adhering to the Bombardier code of ethics it signed, and is awaiting confirmation.

“We take these allegations very seriously as all of our supplier contracts specifically preclude the use of forced labour,” Bombardier said in an email.

A spokesman added that KTK did not supply any of Bombardier’s Canadian transportation projects, which include Toronto Transit Commission streetcars and Montreal subway cars.

Human rights organizations have said that as many as one million ethnic Uighur Muslims in China’s western Xinjiang region have been rounded up and placed in camps. China says it is trying to re-educate and integrate the Uighurs to make them better contributors to Chinese society.

“In factories far away from home, they typically live in segregated dormitories, undergo organised Mandarin and ideological training outside working hours, are subject to constant surveillance, and are forbidden from participating in religious observances,” the report states.

The transferred workers are assigned minders and have limited freedom of movement, the investigation found.

“This report exposes a new phase in China’s social re-engineering campaign targeting minority citizens, revealing new evidence that some factories across China are using forced Uighur labour under a state-sponsored labour transfer scheme that is tainting the global supply chain.”

China’s ambassador to Canada called reports of forced labour “a groundless accusation.”

“There was nothing like the concentration camps or forced labour,” Cong Peiwu told reporters Wednesday at the Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence.

“There is a saying: Even (if) a rumour is repeated 1,000 times, it cannot become a truth.”

Cong portrayed events in Xinjiang as an attempt by regional governments to head off terrorist movements and foster job skills.

“They took measures to establish vocational training centres. Students not only learn the laws and regulations and language, but also the necessary skills,” he said. “So that’s good for stability in the region.”

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