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Xinjiang shakedown: US anti-China lobby cashed in on ‘forced labor’ campaign
By Max Blumenthal

A campaign against supposed forced labor in Xinjiang has forced Uyghur workers out of their jobs while extracting a handsome payout from a US apparel company to Uyghur exile groups lobbying against China.

May 03, 2021 "Information Clearing House" - - " Grey Zone" - A self-described “worker rights organization” in Washington, DC called the Worker Rights Consortium has helped direct a “Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region” that has successfully pressured US apparel companies to leave the Xinjiang region of China. Claiming to represent “over 100 civil society organisations and labour unions from around the world,” the coalition appears bound together by a shared hostility to China’s communist-led government.

Besides the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), coalition steering committee members include the AFL-CIO labor federation, Uyghur exile organizations based in Washington DC, and Hong Kong-based separatist activists. Behind the scenes, the coalition has received assistance from the widely cited Xinjiang researcher Adrian Zenz, of the right-wing Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

The coalition’s initiative scored its first success when it forced a college sportswear company called Badger Sportswear to abandon its factory in Xinjiang. University campuses across the US began to boycott Badger products in December 2018 as the allegations of “forced labor” first reached national media.

Within weeks, Badger formally cut ties with the Hetian Taida factory in Xinjiang, which was accused by the WRC-led coalition of employing Uyghur detainees. While the Chinese government slammed Badger’s decision as “pathetic” and “based on wrong information,” its opponents in Washington took a victory lap.

Instead of remediating the Uyghur workers that suddenly found themselves jobless, however, WRC compelled Badger to pay $300,000 to Uyghur exile organizations lobbying for a more hostile US policy towards China.

According to WRC documents, those organizations were selected by Human Rights Watch, a billionaire-backed advocacy group that is openly committed to undermining China’s government. In internal memos, WRC leadership acknowledged that the payout did not represent proper remediation “from a worker rights perspective.”

Since the US government initiated its policy of “great power competition” against China in 2018, it has focused intensely on the resource-rich, strategically located Western autonomous region of Xinjiang, the site of China’s alleged mistreatment of its Uyghur Muslim population.

Determined to undermine China’s economic rise, the Trump and Biden administrations have accused Beijing of everything from the mass internment of Uyghurs to coerced sterilization and genocide.

The charge of forced labor has caused the most material damage, with numerous US clothing companies pledging to boycott factories in the Xinjiang and reject cotton sourced from the area.

Each allegation Washington has leveled against Beijing has relied almost entirely on an echo chamber of sources funded and coordinated by the US government. This same US-backed network not only supplied the WRC with the basis for its campaign against Badger Sport; it formed the backbone of the supposedly grassroots coalition against “forced labor.”

Indeed, many of the organizations on the steering committee of the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region have one funder in common: the National Endowment for Democracy, or NED.

In the words of one of the NED’s founders, the organization was created by the US government to “do today [what] was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” That has meant quietly funding civil society and media outlets to destabilize states where the US seeks regime change.

WRC director Scott Nova would not respond to questions about whether or not its Xinjiang “forced labor” campaign was underwritten by a NED-backed organization.

Whoever sponsored the WRC’s advocacy, its outcome raises questions about the moral concerns that US human rights NGOs have expressed for Uyghur workers inside China. Rather than directly assisting the supposed victims of Chinese government abuses, self-proclaimed human rights groups appear to be eliminating their jobs in droves on the basis of dubious allegations – and at least in one case, shaking down their former employers for a lucrative payout.

Constructing a crisis and cashing in

The Worker Rights Consortium’s campaign to pressure businesses to disinvest from Xinjiang began in December 2018, just as the US State Department started formally accusing China of subjecting Uyghur Muslims in the region to forced labor and mass internment. Its initiative appeared to have been coordinated with an interlocking network of advocacy groups, corporate media outlets, and US government interests dedicated to containing China.

A December 17 AP article alleging that the Hetian Taida Apparel factory in Xinjiang was the site of forced labor provided the impetus for the WRC campaign. The AP homed in on Badger Sport, a North Carolina-based clothing manufacturer that produced sportswear out of the factory. One day later, in what appeared to be a coordinated action, WRC Executive Director Scott Nova fired off a lengthy press release calling for Badger Sport to leave Xinjiang.

As with most US mainstream media reports alleging Chinese government abuses in Xinjiang, the AP relied entirely on partisan sources outside the country. To paint Hetian Taida as a de facto slave camp, the AP turned to testimony by Uyghur exiles in Kazakhstan and Google Earth analysis of the factory by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a right-wing think tank funded by the US State Department, the Australian Ministry of Defense, and several arms manufacturers.  Continue

Articles alleging forced labor in Xinjiang by the New York Times and the Financial Times appeared the same week as the AP’s report, and also relied largely on analysis by ASPI, as well testimony gathered in Kazakhstan by an exile organization called Atajurt.

Among the Uyghurs interviewed by the AP about allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang was Rushan Abbas, whom it identified simply as “a Uighur in Washington, D.C.” In fact, Abbas was the director of the Campaign For Uyghurs, a major separatist organization funded by the US government which lobbies aggressively for sanctions on China.

A former translator at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, Abbas has boasted in her bio of “extensive experience working with US government agencies, including Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Department of State, and various US intelligence agencies.”

In June 2019, the WRC issued a 37-page paper accusing Badger of profiting from supposedly forced labor in the Hetian Taida factory in Xinjiang. The document was comprised largely of claims by a tightly coordinated network of US-backed Uyghur activists, US state media outlets, US-funded think tank pundits, and Human Rights Watch – the same virulently anti-China elements that shape Western media’s coverage of Xinjiang.

WRC’s key sources included the following:

  • Adrian Zenz, the far-right Christian fundamentalist fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation who has declared that he was “led by God” to antagonize China’s government. Despite Zenz’s extensive and well-documented record of statistical manipulation and retractions, and lack of scholarly credentials on China, the WRC described him as “a leading scholar on the government’s repression of ethnic Muslim minorities.” As we will see later, Zenz joined WRC’s campaign in a formal capacity.
  • “Credible reports by Radio Free Asia,” the US government-sponsored news service that the New York Times once deemed, “A Worldwide Propaganda Network Built by the CIA.” While the WRC’s report described Radio Free Asia as “credible,” it branded China Central Television (CCTV) as “government propaganda.”
  • The US government, whose accusations against China the WRC cited repeatedly and without a shred of skepticism. This same government may have funded the WRC’s campaign on Xinjiang, and finances many of its key coalition partners through the National Endowment for Democracy.
  • The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), the US State Department- and arms industry-funded think tank notorious for satellite analysis that has labeled government buildings, primary schools, and senior high schools in Xinjiang as “concentration camps.” Among the ASPI researchers cited by WRC was Vicky Xu, an anti-China activist and attempted comedian who has reportedly declared, “I’m in a real war with China.” An investigation by Michael West Media found that a substantial sum of ASPI’s donations came from corporations that rely on prison labor.
  • The Uyghur American Association (UAA), a US-government funded exile lobbying organization based in Washington DC. As The Grayzone has reported, UAA leadership organized a car caravan in April 2021 that interrupted and heckled a demonstration against anti-Asian racism, maintain close relations with anti-Muslim legislators like Rep. Ted Yoho, and host a right-wing militia-style gun club.
  • Human Rights Watch, the billionaire-funded international lobbying outfit that ultimately identified Uyghur exile groups that receive payouts from Badger Sportswear.


The editor-in-chief of The Grayzone, Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of several books, including best-selling Republican GomorrahGoliath, The Fifty One Day War, and The Management of Savagery. He has produced print articles for an array of publications, many video reports, and several documentaries, including Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded The Grayzone in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America's state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.

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