The U.S. State Department named China, North Korea, and Myanmar as state sponsors of the trafficking of persons for the second consecutive year in its annual report on human trafficking released on Thursday, citing the use of forced labor in the two East Asian countries and the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the Southeast Asian nation.
The annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report ranks 188 countries — rating them as Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, or Tier 3 — based on whether they meet the minimum standards set by U.S. law to eliminate human trafficking, as mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).
The minimum standards under the U.S. law include a government’s prohibition of and punishment of severe forms of human trafficking, and serious and sustained efforts to eliminate such trafficking.
In remarks given at the launch of the TIP report on Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called out China’s use of detained ethnic Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim minority group living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), as forced laborers to produce various Chinese-made goods.
The Chinese government has detained some 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in its extensive network of as many as 1,200 state-run internment camps, though it says the facilities are vocational training centers set up to combat religious extremism and terrorism.
“Many detainees are subject to physical violence, sexual abuse, and torture to induce them to work, producing apparel, electronics, solar equipment, agricultural products,” Blinken said. “And while the practices are the most egregious in Xinjiang, this year’s report notes that China has subjected its citizens to coercive labor practices in other parts of the country as well.”
Blinken noted that the U.S. government has taken measures to stop Chinese goods made with forced laboring from entering the U.S., citing the 2020 issuance of the Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory to alert American companies about the economic, legal, and reputational risks associated with operations, supply chains, and laborers in the XUAR.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has issued several Withhold Release Orders to prevent goods suspected to have been made with forced labor from entering the United States.
Additionally, the U.S. and several other countries have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for various abuses against Uyghurs, as well as on Chinese government agencies and companies suspected of using Uyghur forced labor to make products such as cotton, wigs, and polysilicon for solar panels.
U.S lawmakers are also working on a Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which aims to address the systematic use for Uyghur forced labor in the XUAR and ensure that U.S. companies are not complicit.
“We’ll continue to call on our partners around the world to join us in condemning China’s genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and in taking steps to prevent goods made with forced labor from entering out supply chains,” Blinken said.
“Governments should protect and serve their citizens, not terrorize and subjugate them for profit,” he added.
There was no immediate response by the Chinese government to Blinken’s comments or about the TIP Report, as the country marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party on July 1.
‘The government is the trafficker’
China, North Korea, and Myanmar were among 11 governments worldwide cited in the report as having a documented “policy or pattern” of human trafficking, trafficking in government-funded programs, forced labor in government-affiliated medical services or other sectors, sexual slavery in government camps, or the recruitment of child soldiers.
All three countries retained their Tier 3 positions in the 2021 TIP Report. They all also were listed among a dozen governments that had policies or patterns of trafficking in the 2020 report — the first time the U.S. State Department used the new category.
The 644-page report said that the Chinese government had taken some steps to address trafficking by continuing to prosecute and convict some traffickers and by maintaining consultative mechanisms with law enforcement counterparts in other countries, though the country used widespread forced labor.
The report noted China’s campaign of mass detention and political indoctrination against Uyghurs and other Turkic groups in the XUAR and its use of surveillance technologies and trumped-up administrative and criminal charges to detain them in the internment camps in an effort to wipe out their ethnic and religious identities. It also said that those who have managed to avoid detention are at risk of state-sponsored forced labor and other abuses.
“Forced labor is a central tactic used for this repression,” the TIP Report said. “In Xinjiang, the government is the trafficker.”
In detailing the Chinese government’s policy of widespread forced labor in other region, the report said that officials reportedly placed ethnic Tibetans in vocational training and manufacturing jobs as part of a purported “poverty alleviation” and “labor transfer” program that had coercive elements.
North Korea was cited for the government’s mass mobilizations of adults and children in prison camps as part of a system of political repression, and in labor training centers. The report also pointed out the country’s imposition of forced labor conditions on its workers overseas.
The U.S report also noted that the government likely used the COVID-19 pandemic to increase the number of political prisoners, and thus its capacity to subject North Koreans to forced labor. North Korea used proceeds from state-sponsored forced labor to pay for government functions and illicit activities, and did not make any efforts to address human trafficking, it said.
Of the other countries covered by RFA, Laos remained a Tier 2 country on this year’s TIP Report, while Cambodia and Vietnam were still deemed Tier 2 Watch List countries that do not fully comply with the minimum standards set by U.S. law but are seen as making significant efforts to bring themselves in line.
The Lao government increased its overall efforts to combat trafficking, but it fell short by inconsistently using victim identification and screening procedures, inadequately identifying Lao and foreign victims of trafficking within the country, and failing to adequately address or investigate suspected perpetrators of sex trafficking in at-risk sectors, the report said.
The Cambodian government continued to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, and to implement a national action plan to combat trafficking, but its efforts were hampered by endemic corruption and lack of political will, the TIP Report said.
Vietnam increased its prosecutions of traffickers, reported comprehensive data on trafficking cases, and revised a law governing contract-based Vietnamese overseas workers, the report said. But the government failed to systematically implement victim identification procedures or proactively identify trafficking victims among some vulnerable groups. It also reported a decline in investigations and convictions of traffickers.
The annual TIP Report is based on information from U.S. embassies, government officials, NGOs and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, research trips, and information submitted to the State Department.
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