As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in China, and traffickers exploit Chinese victims abroad. Traffickers also use China as a transit point to subject foreign individuals to trafficking in other countries throughout Asia and in international maritime industries. Well-organized criminal syndicates and local gangs subject Chinese women and girls to sex trafficking within China. Traffickers typically recruit them from rural areas and take them to urban centers, using a combination of fraudulent job offers and coercion by imposing large travel fees, confiscating passports, confining victims, or physically and financially threatening victims to compel their engagement in commercial sex. China’s national household registry system (hukou) continues to restrict rural inhabitants’ freedom to legally change their residence, placing China’s internal migrant population—estimated to exceed 169 million men, women, and children—at high risk of forced labor in brick kilns, coal mines, and factories. Some of these businesses operate illegally and take advantage of lax government enforcement. Chinese nationals are subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor in BRI projects in several countries. African and Asian men reportedly experience conditions indicative of forced labor aboard Chinese-flagged and Chinese-owned, foreign-flagged fishing vessels operating worldwide in China’s DWF; men from other regions may be in forced labor aboard these vessels as well. Women and girls from South Asia, Southeast Asia, and several countries in Africa experience forced labor in domestic service, forced concubinism leading to forced childbearing, and sex trafficking via forced and fraudulent marriage to Chinese men. Traffickers target adults and children with developmental disabilities and children whose parents have left them with relatives to migrate to the cities—estimated at 6.4 million—and subject them to forced labor and forced begging. State bodies reportedly subject members of Muslim minority groups and Tibetans to forced labor as part of arbitrary mass detention, political indoctrination, and labor transfer schemes.
State-sponsored forced labor is increasingly prevalent in China. In 2013, the National People’s Congress ratified a decision to abolish “Re-education through labor” (RTL), a punitive system that subjected individuals to extra-judicial detention involving forced labor, from which the government reportedly profited. The government closed most RTL facilities by October 2015; however, the government reportedly converted some RTL facilities into state-sponsored drug rehabilitation facilities or administrative detention centers where, according to civil society and media reports, forced labor continues. State-sponsored forced labor is intensifying under the government’s mass detention and political indoctrination campaign against Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang). Authorities have utilized discriminatory surveillance technologies and arbitrary administrative and criminal provisions to detain more than one million ethnic Muslims, including Uyghurs, ethnic Hui, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, ethnic Tajiks, and ethnic Uzbeks in as many as 1,200 “vocational training centers”—internment camps designed to erase ethnic and religious identities. Camp authorities reportedly force some individuals to work in staff positions within the camps, including in Mandarin language instruction. During detention within—and following “graduation” from—these facilities, many of these individuals are subjected to forced labor in adjacent or off-site factories producing garments, footwear, carpets, yarn, food products, holiday decorations, building materials, solar power equipment polysilicon and other renewable energy components, consumer electronics, bedding, hair products, cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment face masks, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and other goods for domestic and international distribution. Coercive conditions reportedly include threats of physical violence, forcible drug intake, physical and sexual abuse, and torture. Local governments have reportedly used the threat of internment to coerce some members of these communities directly into forced labor. A small number of ethnic Han individuals and members of other religious minority groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, are also reportedly in detention within this system. Authorities offer subsidies incentivizing Chinese companies to open factories in close proximity to the internment camps and to receive transferred detainees at satellite manufacturing sites in other provinces, and local governments receive additional funds for each inmate forced to work in these sites at a fraction of minimum wage or without any compensation. The government has transported at least 80,000 of these individuals to other provinces for forced labor under the guise of poverty alleviation and industrial aid programs; authorities have formally convicted many more, perhaps hundreds of thousands, under spurious criminal charges and transferred them to more than 100 urban prisons throughout the country, where they suffer additional forced labor conditions.
Authorities in some localities also subject the families of men arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang to forced labor in their absence. Contacts report families separated by this system are more likely to fall below the poverty line and are therefore at higher risk of sex trafficking and forced labor. Authorities place the young children of interned Muslims in Xinjiang in state-run boarding schools, orphanages, and “child welfare guidance centers,” and force them to participate in political indoctrination activities and report on their families’ religious activities. Authorities reportedly place older children among these groups in vocational schools, where some may be victims of forced labor. Some Kazakhstani and Kyrgyzstani citizens are arbitrarily detained while visiting family in Xinjiang; their children, now unaccompanied abroad, are also at elevated risk of trafficking. NGOs report ethnic Han men may be increasingly able to force Uyghur and other Muslim women into marriages under the government’s discriminatory ethnic assimilation policies, placing them at higher risk of forced labor in domestic service and other forms of exploitation. Members of these Muslim minority groups attempting to seek asylum abroad are vulnerable to immigration-related administrative and criminal charges in destination countries, as well as to PRC extradition and refoulement.
Xinjiang authorities issued a notice in 2017 abolishing rural obligatory labor under the hashar system, in which thousands of Uyghur adults and children were reportedly subjected to forced labor in government infrastructure projects and agriculture each year. Despite this policy change, similar forms of state-sponsored forced labor continue in Xinjiang, including under the auspices of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (Bingtuan)—an economic and paramilitary organization with administrative control over several areas in the region comprising approximately 2.8 million personnel. According to NGO reports, Bingtuan regiments manage at least 36 agricultural prison farms throughout Xinjiang; unlike the aforementioned mass detention campaign, this system primarily subjects ethnic Han inmates—many of whom may be victims of arbitrary detention—to forced labor. Bingtuan authorities also force inmates to build new prison facilities in several areas of the province and may subject inmates to forced labor in coal, uranium, and asbestos mining, as well as in lead and zinc smelting and fertilizer production. Some Xinjiang residents are also subjected to forced labor in polysilicon mining and processing. The Bingtuan reportedly forces half a million Uyghur adults and children to pick and process cotton, tomatoes, sugar beets, and possibly apples and peanuts. The impact of formal discriminatory employment policies barring Uyghurs from jobs in many sectors—including in the annual cotton harvest—reportedly drives thousands of Uyghur farmers out of their communities in search of alternative work, placing them at higher risk of forced labor. The same is true of the government’s targeted forced-displacement programs, including the Bingtuan’s construction of new settlements designated for ethnic Han internal migrants, which reportedly disperses Uyghur communities and disrupts their livelihoods.
The government subjects some Tibetans to arbitrary detention featuring similar political indoctrination and forced prison labor practices in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in neighboring provinces. Authorities have placed more than 500,000 rural Tibetans in “military-style” vocational training and manufacturing jobs around the country under the auspices of a quota-based “surplus labor” transfer program ostensibly intended as a poverty alleviation measure. Although the program does not feature arrests or enforced disappearances, observers note the system is likely highly coercive, given individuals’ relative inability to refuse participation amid the central government’s pervasive system of social control in Tibetan areas. Reports indicate some of these Tibetans are subjected to forced labor in factories. Authorities also reportedly subject some Buddhist clerics to political indoctrination activities and forced labor in monasteries repurposed as factories. The government’s forced urban resettlement programs require Tibetans to bear a large portion of resettlement costs, placing many of them in debt and consequently at higher risk of forced labor. Elsewhere, religious and political activists held in legal education facilities continue to report forced labor occurring in pretrial detention and outside of penal sentences. The government subjects Christians and members of other religious groups to forced labor as part of detention for the purpose of ideological indoctrination; survivors report having been forced to work in brick kilns, food processing centers, and factories manufacturing clothing and housewares. Law enforcement officials detain some Chinese national and foreign women on prostitution charges without due process in “custody and education” centers, where they are subjected to forced labor. International media report local authorities force children in some government-supported work-study programs to work in factories. Some school districts compel students into forced labor in manufacturing under the guise of mandatory internships. Although information is limited, Chinese nationals may experience conditions indicative of forced labor at large-scale rare earth mining operations within China, and rural communities displaced by these activities and by concomitant environmental contamination may themselves be vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking.
Some Chinese nationals employed in large-scale BRI construction projects, mining operations, and factories in African, European, Asian and Pacific, and Latin American and Caribbean countries experience conditions indicative of forced labor. These include deceptive recruitment into debt bondage; arbitrary wage garnishing or withholding; contract irregularities; confiscation of travel and identity documentation; forced overtime; resignation penalties; intimidation and threats; physical violence; denial of access to urgent medical care; poor working and living conditions; restricted freedom of movement and external communication; and retaliation for reported abuses, among others. Pandemic-related travel restrictions in many of these countries and reentry restrictions imposed by the PRC government compounded these vulnerabilities. Some Chinese nationals reportedly recruit local children from the communities in which some BRI projects are underway and subject them to forced labor in hazardous work.
Traffickers subject Chinese national men, women, and children to forced labor and sex trafficking in at least 80 other countries. They force Chinese national men, women, and girls to work in restaurants, shops, agricultural operations, and factories in overseas Chinese communities. Some are promised jobs abroad and confined to private homes upon arrival overseas, held in conditions indicative of forced labor, and compelled to conduct telephone scams. Traffickers also reportedly subject some Chinese nationals to forced criminality in the cultivation, processing, and distribution of recreational drugs. Chinese national men in Africa, Europe, and South America experience abuse in factories, at construction sites, in coal and copper mines, and in other extractive industries, where they face conditions indicative of forced labor, such as non-payment of wages, restrictions on movement, withholding of passports, and physical abuse. Chinese-owned manufacturing facilities in South Africa have reportedly subjected Chinese nationals to forced labor in the manufacturing of pandemic-related medical protective garments. Traffickers subject Chinese national women and girls to sex trafficking throughout the world, including in major cities, construction sites, remote mining and logging camps, and areas with high concentrations of Chinese national migrant workers. Companies operating under the auspices of the Japanese government’s “Technical Intern Training Program” have exploited Chinese nationals in forced labor in food processing, manufacturing, construction, and fishing. Traffickers also subject undocumented Chinese national seafarers to forced labor on board fishing vessels in Taiwan’s highly vulnerable Distant Water Fleet.
Chinese national traffickers operating abroad also subject local populations to sex trafficking in several countries in Africa, the Mediterranean region, and South America. Chinese national traffickers also subject women and girls in other Asian countries to sex trafficking and forced labor in sham businesses and entertainment establishments, including Chinese national-owned casinos, constructed in close proximity to large-scale PRC infrastructure and investment projects—at times under the auspices of the BRI—and in special economic zones with limited local government oversight. Chinese national-owned factories and agricultural plantations in Burma reportedly subject local and internal migrant populations to forced labor; the same may also be true for PRC-owned logging operations there. Chinese crime syndicates reportedly assist traffickers in Southeast Asian countries in the production of counterfeit travel documents to facilitate trans-border trafficking. Congolese men and boys experience conditions indicative of forced labor in Chinese national-owned mining operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Many men from countries in Africa, Asia—especially Indonesia and the Philippines—and other regions employed on many of the 2,900 Chinese-flagged DWF fishing vessels operating worldwide experience contract discrepancies, excessive working hours, degrading living conditions, severe verbal and physical abuse, denial of access to health care, restricted communication, document retention, arbitrary garnishing or nonpayment of wages, and other forced labor indicators, often while being forced to remain at sea for months or years at a time. This statistic does not include Chinese-owned DWF vessels that are flagged or registered through front companies in other countries; the true number of DWF vessels with Chinese beneficial ownership may therefore be much higher than reported. Many DWF crewmembers are recruited through unlicensed or poorly regulated informal brokerage networks within China and abroad, exacerbating their risk of indebtedness through the imposition of unregulated hiring fees, commissions, and expenses accrued while being forced to reside in dormitories in the months leading up to their deployment. Chinese fishing operators in turn require DWF crewmembers to pay “guarantee money” that places them at further risk of debt-based coercion. Some DWF senior vessel crew also force these fishermen to engage in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and smuggling—including in areas under the jurisdiction of other coastal states—making many victims vulnerable to unjust civil and criminal liabilities in port countries. Some Chinese-owned fishing vessels reportedly operate in violation of UN sanctions off the coast of North Korea while evading detection by maritime authorities; the crew aboard these ships are also vulnerable to forced labor in IUU fishing.
Chinese national traffickers subject women and children from neighboring Asian countries, Africa, and the Americas to forced labor and sex trafficking within the PRC. Traffickers promise African and South American women legitimate jobs in the PRC and force them into commercial sex upon arrival. The PRC government’s birth-limitation policy and a cultural preference for sons created a skewed sex ratio of 110 boys to 100 girls in the PRC, which observers assert continues to drive the demand for commercial sex and for foreign women as brides for Chinese national men—both of which may be procured by force or coercion. Traffickers kidnap or recruit women and girls through marriage brokers and transport them to the PRC, where some are subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor. Illicit brokers increasingly facilitate the forced and fraudulent marriage of South Asian, Southeast Asian, Northeast Asian, and African women and girls to Chinese national men for fees of up $30,000. The men—sometimes in partnership with their parents—often incur large debts to cover these fees, which they attempt to recover by subjecting the “brides” to forced labor or sex trafficking. Some Chinese national men reportedly circumvent this brokerage system by traveling to Southeast Asian capitals and entering into legal marriages with local women and girls, then return to the PRC and compel them into commercial sex. There are also reports of Chinese national men and their parents deceiving Southeast Asian women and girls into fraudulent marriages in China, then confining them in forced concubinism involving rape leading to forced pregnancy. In cases where this forced pregnancy leads to childbirth, the men and their parents sometimes use the child as collateral to retain the women’s forced labor or sexual slavery or use the women’s immigration status as coercion to dissuade them from reporting their abuses to the authorities. Traffickers also reportedly lure women from Burma, Vietnam, and Cambodia to China under similar false pretenses and subject them to forcible artificial insemination in unregulated hospital facilities; they confine groups of these women in private residences until they give birth and then drive them across international borders to their home countries with impunity. A small number of Chinese national women are reportedly subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor via forced or fraudulent marriages to Taiwanese men. Mongolian boys are at high risk of forced labor and sex trafficking under visa regimes that enable them to work indefinitely as herders, horse jockeys and circus performers across the PRC border, provided they return with a chaperone once a month. African residents of the PRC displaced through discriminatory eviction policies related to the pandemic may be at higher risk of sex trafficking and forced labor due to ensuing homelessness and other economic hardships.
Many North Korean refugees and asylum-seekers living irregularly in the PRC are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers lure, drug, detain, or kidnap some North Korean women upon their arrival in the PRC and compel them into commercial sex in brothels and bars, through internet sex sites, or in relation to forced marriage. Traffickers also subject these women to forced labor in agriculture, as hostesses in nightclubs and karaoke bars, in domestic service, and at factories. According to media and NGO reports, the North Korean government subjects North Korean citizens to forced labor in China as part of its proliferation finance system, likely with the knowledge of PRC officials; this includes forced labor in hotels, restaurants, and in remote cyber operations. Chinese manufacturing facilities reportedly also subject North Korean workers to forced labor in the production of protective medical garments for international export.