The Uighur crisis has been shamefully ignored by Western companies, who are happy to profit off of links with ChinaOZAN KOSE : Getty Images

Content Note: contains mentions of extreme violence and genocide 

History should have taught us that the evil of genocide will always try and disguise itself as something more palatable. Rather than explicitly proclaim the eradication of an ethnic group as in Rwanda, genocide is often concealed as something more banal; seen in the way the Jews were first hidden from the public eye in ghettoes before being sent to death camps. The state never claims to be perpetrating evil; rather, they appeal to the majority’s fears and rationale. I want us to remember that insidious chameleonic side of genocide when we read of China’s “people’s war on terror”. Part of that “war” has seen at least a million Uighurs “interned” in Vocational Education and Training Centres; justified out of a concern for public safety, it is portrayed as benevolent “re-education.” Despite regional government claims that the program has concluded, new satellite imagery purports to show detention camps being built and others expanded, reaching a total of 380 discovered facilities.

The disturbing oppression that this represents is highlighted by Nathan Ruser, a key researcher, who claims that it is the equivalent of “New York City building more than 55 prisons only for black Americans in just over three years.” While China tries to maintain a façade that these camps are innocuous, with camera crews allowed into selective areas, the mounting evidence depicts a far more sinister reality. Leaked footage, documents and survivors’ testimonies indicate a systematic attempt to erase the Uighur people through torture, forced abortions, mass sterilisation, indefinite detention, medical neglect, and even involuntary adoption of Uighur children into Han Chinese families. Proof of these appalling human rights abuses are emerging constantly, the latest suggesting that potentially 500,000 Tibetans are being placed in similar concentration camps.

“China uses its economic influence to institutionally whitewash its abuses”

Yet, in the face of what Nury Turkel, a lawyer on the board for the Uighur Human Rights Project, labels “cultural genocide”, the media and corporate response has been insipid at best, and complicit at worst, demonstrating the emptiness of corporate morality . Nike has tried to emphasise its ‘wokeness’ in recent years, launching a campaign with Colin Kaepernick captioned “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Admittedly, they initially faced ferocious backlash from raging Republicans; however, their market value subsequently increased by $6 billion. More recently, they launched a campaign with Megan Rapinoe, the US Women Football’s star player and a key LBGTQ+ figure in sport. Both campaigns were very important in disrupting the homogenous status quo among sports campaigns; however, I would argue that corporations like Nike use those apparently virtuous stances to opportunistically profit. In contrast to their public self-presentation, they not only refuse to comment on the Uighur situation, but they contract suppliers which allegedly use Uighur people as forced labour. They are not alone in this, as Nike, Apple, Gap and many others similarly shout loudly about injustice and discrimination when they are shamelessly profiteering off ethnic slavery.


Mountain View

Where does China stand?

People try to defend their silence on the grounds that you should put your own house in order before criticising another’s. The economic complicitly dismantles that defence and exemplifies what Ai Weiwei, the prominent Chinese dissident, articulated in a recent interview, in which he argued that the West’s inextricable economic dependence on China means that it is no longer possible to curb Beijing’s power. Corporations are so entangled with China that to criticise their treatment of the Uighurs would be economic suicide, as demonstrated by Arsenal F.C.’s distancing from their player Mesut Özil’s comments on the Uighurs. Those companies’ cold indifference to China’s quasi-genocidal program makes a mockery of any previous moral stance, and until their boards are driven by something more than share prices, corporate activism will never address the more insidious plight of the Uighurs.

The idea that commercial companies are driven by profits is hardly revolutionary, but I believe that their hypocritical disregard should serve as a warning to us all and heighten our awareness. You only have to look at the international response to realise how widespread China’s influence is. In July, twenty countries (including the USA who are unusually outspoken on the issue; however, you wonder how much that is linked to Trump’s trade war) unified in a condemnation of the persecution of Uighur Muslims, only for thirty-seven states, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to sign a letter praising China’s “contribution to the international human rights cause.”

While China uses its economic influence to institutionally whitewash its abuses, social media means that you can easily access secretly recorded footage rather than wait for the media to infrequently provide skeletal coverage. The internet is therefore a blessing and a curse. By allowing direct access to information, it also removes any excuse for apathy. It would be ridiculous to suggest that you should be equally knowledgeable and passionate about every form of injustice in the world; however, it is also important that we do not become too introspective. Although we obviously must tackle the widespread systemic injustice in our society, we should not allow ourselves to turn a blind eye to the horrific abuse which China so desperately wants us to forget. Genocide will always seek to avoid recognition as such and so we must focus on the Uighur plight before it is too late.