TToday’s confrontation with the slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries could puff us up and make us feel better about ourselves if the slave trade of the 21st century did not prosper. We will remember 2020 for the crowds that toppled statues of Confederate generals and English slavers; Black Lives Matter protests the continuing legacy of slavery condemning African Americans to suffer as the lowest caste in their country.
So successful has the timing of the reckoning been that Hollywood and the leaders of American capitalism have embraced anti-racism. At words from your CEO, Tim Cook, Apple was willing to commit to a change that would end “the fear, pain and outrage caused by the senseless murder of George Floyd and a much longer history of racism.” Don’t let a leftist grimace form on your lips. Causes only win when people like Tim Cook stand behind them. The embrace of the elite is a sign of victory.
But it is not a victory for the slaves of today. Forced labor is an essential part of the Chinese state’s program to humiliate and destroy ethnic minorities. The parallels with the pre-war south extend to the cotton fields. Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) runs prison factories and his own paramilitary force to keep their captives at bay. He helped create the Chinese cotton industry, which now supplies 20% of the world cotton market And maybe the clothes you are wearing. XPCC sends forced labor to pick cotton because no one has harvested cotton unless poverty or slave masters force them to do so. It is difficult to know which is worse: strenuous work or exposure to pesticides.
Mechanization could save recruits pain. But Amy k lehr from the Center for Strategic and International Studies reports that, after looking for evidence on the websites of Chinese companies and officials, he was surprised by how much cotton is still harvested by hand in Xinjiang. Maybe not so surprising. If the Chinese Communist Party has a reserve army of forced labor, it has no need to spend on technology. In fact, forced labor allows him to bear the costs of repression.
It is debatable whether it is correct to call prison labor “forced” or “slave labor”. Under normal circumstances, it can be a legitimate part of a criminal’s punishment. But when China has stopped one million Uighur and Kazakh Muslims, and when he says that the evidence of his criminality includes “wearing a veil or headscarf” and “avoiding alcohol,” and when Han officials swept racial minorities in Xinjiang To break their ties to family and culture by sending them to factories far from home, the debate seems obfuscated.
No one is more determined to hide than the corporations that oppose racism. Last month the Washington Post Congressional staff quoted as saying that Apple was lobbying against the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would require US companies to ensure they don’t use jailed or coerced Xinjiang workers. the New York Times He added that Nike and Coca-Cola were also pushing. They all condemn forced labor and ethnic persecution in Xinjiang and, in Apple’s words, say they have “found no evidence of forced labor” on their production lines. However, they fear that the law’s ambitious requirements could ruin their supply chains in China.
If you want to tease, go ahead. When you’re done, consider why this isn’t a scandal. Censorship is part of the answer. The world is scandalized by what the world can see. When you think of Xinjiang, what images come to mind? Neither is my guess. China prevents journalists and diplomats from reporting from Xinjiang except in the most strictly controlled circumstances. Garment companies once sent auditors to Xinjiang to verify that forced labor was not on their supply lines. But the authorities started treating them as suspects and withdrew. Think then of the visible smartphones, smart clothes and smart sneakers around you. Do consumers want to know where they come from or are they interrupted by bans?
When I read western literature from the 18th century, it amazes me how slavery was so taken for granted that it hardly appeared in the work of most writers. Notions of racial superiority explain the silence, as does the desire for cotton and sugar clothing and the inability to imagine how Europe could achieve them if slaves were free.
That feeling has not died. Conservative MPs are telling Boris Johnson that “go to warAgainst the National Trust, of all harmless institutions. Their crime is to investigate the links between their properties and colonialism and slavery. By telling the truth about the historical record, trust was ruining the conservatives’ pleasure in manor houses.
Like the Atlantic slave trade, forced labor in China may seem too convenient to challenge. It’s one thing to go to a Black Lives Matter demo and another to break your phone contract. China, like the former slave power in Britain and the United States, may seem so strong and so ingrained in global consumption patterns that taking it on seems like a doomed undertaking.
When I speak to Rahima Mahmut of the Uyghur World Congress, she is close to despair over the cowardice of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Indonesia and all the other Muslim majority countries who are silent on the persecution of Muslims for the love of money. Chinese. and fear of retaliation from China. However, she is not entirely dejected. Mapping of China’s “re-education” camps only started in 2018, he says. Whether with forced labor or the overthrow of the rule of law in Hong Kong, the tyrannical twist in Chinese politics is taking time to assimilate.
Last week, parliamentarians from the China Research Group recommended that Britain join the America of Biden and other democracies, not for a cold war, but for to ensure basic protections. These included a requirement that “supply chains be free from slave or child labor by political prisoners and persecuted ethnic minorities in China.” Most may not want to look yet, but the world has passed the point where it can pretend slavery is history.
• Nick Cohen is a columnist for Observer
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.