When the call came, the mom of three was concerned -- but not enough to get dressed. She reported to the police station in her slippers, she remembers, telling her children she would be right back. She wasn't. After a brutal interrogation at the Chinese precinct, her world went dark. Covered in a black hood, Zumrat Duwat felt the shackles clamp her feet and hands, and she knew: the promise she made to her family -- like so many Uyghurs before her -- would be broken. Zumrat was not coming home, and there was nothing she or anyone else could do.
Her story is one of millions. Like so many Uyghurs, the torture began long before this. Stripped of her passport, tracked by government spyware, and tested for DNA, Zumrat had been on the police's radar for years. At one point, she was forcibly taken to a clinic and hooked up to an IV -- only to wake up and discover her tubes had been tied. But there are worse outcomes, she shakes her head. Some women don't even know they've been sterilized. Doctors will tell them that they're having another procedure -- only when they talk to other prisoners do they understand the horror that's been done to them.
Inside the camps, life is even worse. Jammed into small cells, girls as young as 14 are ordered to squat naked in front of the guards, many of them taken away and raped. "There were girls from my room who passed out from being beaten so hard and had nails put into their fingers to make blood pour out," Gulbakhar Jalilova says quietly. This is not "re-education," she insists. In 15 months, she "never saw a single classroom."
If you're lucky enough to be released from the camps, another form of suffering awaits. The Chinese call it "graduation." Survivors call it forced labor. Sent to a network of factories -- many with U.S. ties -- they work grueling hours. "They don't let them come out," said one Muslim woman who was trapped inside. "The government chose them to come to OFILM [factories]," said one shopkeeper, "they didn't choose it." Inside, the workers make "screens, camera cover lenses, [and] scanners" for companies like Apple, Samsung, Lenovo, Dell, HP, and more. "My family is held hostage in a Chinese concentration camp," one exiled man pleaded with the U.N. in September. "My brother is forced to assemble phone chargers as a slave laborer. Your charger may be among them."
After months of prodding by international leaders, the U.S. State Department and members of Congress decided to act. In a rare display of bipartisanship, they condemned China's genocide and the American brands secretly profiting from it. By an overwhelming vote -- 406-3 -- the House took powerful action, banning certain imports from the Xinjiang region, slapping sanctions on those responsible, and barring U.S. companies from using imprisoned workers. Congressman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), pointing to the truly heinous discoveries Americans have made, said that in July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection "seized a 13-ton shipment of human hair" from the forced labor system. "We haven't heard about human hair since the Nazis in the concentration camps of the war that my father fought in, World War II. It's sickening. We must refuse to be complicit financially or otherwise."
Some of America's richest companies, however, aren't quite so willing to go along. Rolling in the cash that slave labor has saved them, tech brands like Apple are working behind the scenes to keep their supply chains open. In a story that CEO Tim Cook had managed to keep under wraps, the Washington Post broke the news that lobbyists for Apple have been quietly trying to weaken the bill before the Senate has a chance to vote. "What Apple would like is we all just sit and talk and not have any real consequences," said one of the big union lobbyists.
Publicly, the tech mogul wants the public to think they're on board. Apple spokesperson Josh Rosenstock has insisted Cook's empire "is dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our supply chain is treated with dignity and respect. We abhor forced labor and support the goals of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act." The CEO himself told a congressional committee in July that he would not tolerate supplier who abused human rights. The reality is quite different, anonymous Hill staffers tell the Post -- pointing to the major campaign underway to water down the legislation so that Apple's manufacturing line isn't affected.
And it isn't just Apple, but Costco, Coca-Cola, and Patagonia. Unlike other companies, who were horrified to learn about their connections to these factories, Cook's team is even hiring a special lobbying firm with the mission to soften the penalties of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. Meanwhile, Apple has been parading around here at home as some sort of social justice warrior, bragging about donations to nonprofits that promote "racial equality" -- as they fuel persecution on an international scale. They drone on about "looking inward" and stopping "mass incarceration," while they make millions off of innocent minorities locked up and abused. They crush the freedom they claim to care about and trade in human misery while we aren't looking. All to make a buck.
How long will they get away with it? As long as America lets them. Contact your senators and urge them to bring the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act to the floor and stop U.S. companies from exploiting these minorities for money.