By / Feb 18

The gross human rights violations committed by the Chinese Communist Party and their authoritarian rule has been in the news lately because of the Winter Olympics. China’s citizens, and specifically minorities like the Uyghur people, have lived under oppression and persecution for years. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian leads the weekly Axios China newsletter and covers China’s role in the world. Below, she answers questions about the history of China’s influence, how they seek to gain power, and how we can learn more about this country.

Jason Thacker: As we get started, can you tell us a little bit about your path of researching and reporting on China?

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: I first went to China in 2004 as part of a study abroad program and really loved my time there. I was in Xiamen, which is a city on the coast, a tropical part of southern China. It was just beautiful, and I really loved the Chinese friends that I made. I also thought the Chinese language was beautiful and fascinating, and the culture and history were interesting. It really changed the course of my life. I never really looked back. After I graduated from undergrad, I went back. I was in China from 2008 to 2012. I lived in Beijing for one year, and in Nanjing for one year. I went back to Xiamen for two years, and then I got a master’s in East Asian studies and started on the path that I’ve been on for the past eight years, which is as a journalist based in D.C., but focusing on China. 

JT: Can you help us to understand a bit of the recent history in China and how they have become a global superpower under president Xi Jinping?

Bethany: So, that started in the 1980s and then rather more quickly in the 1990s, with China’s reform and opening up economically, culturally, and diplomatically to the rest of the world. After China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, you saw enormously quick economic development, 10-12% GDP growth, for a while it held at 18% GDP growth, and certainly economic growth comes with a lot more power in a lot of ways. But what we’ve really seen Xi Jinping do is skillfully locate all the areas where China wasn’t really taking advantage of the power it could have — in ways that it can use its economic strength and translate that into geopolitical power, diplomatic power, other kinds of strategic power. Jinping has really focused on that with his Belt and Road Initiative. It seems that he is trying to create a China-centric world order for the 21st century through bringing in countries bilaterally in their relationship with China and giving them loans and infrastructure projects and deals. But, there’s a lot of strings attached to that, namely supporting China’s goals in multilateral institutions, voting for what they want and giving them backing whenever desired. That’s one aspect. 

The diplomatic push has been really huge, but also we’ve seen a different kind of economic power, a kind that people are calling “economic coercion,” and that’s how China has weaponized access to its markets. For political reasons, in some ways, you could say it’s somewhat analogous to U.S. sanctions. However, the way that China uses its markets in this way is usually to support its own narrow geopolitical interests. So, hot-button issues like the genocide in Xinjiang or policies in Tibet or the way that it has crushed the democracy movement in Hong Kong or people who get too close to Taiwan, you see the Chinese government denying access, usually in a very opaque kind of way for those kinds of actions and speech. 

The Chinese government has also deployed that kind of power for pretty straightforward defense reasons. So, for example, a number of years ago, the South Korean government deployed a U.S. missile defense system called “THAAD” on South Korean soil, and this is mainly as part of their self-defense strategy against North Korea, but it also is right next to China. The Chinese government really did not like this and did not want South Korea to deploy it. So, they basically implemented a bunch of de facto kinds of economic measures against South Korea, including stopping Chinese tourists from going there, a big source of revenue in South Korea, prevented K-pop bands from performing in China or even streaming on Chinese music websites. There was sort of a boycott of Lotteria, which is a South Korean restaurant chain on whose land the THAAD system was deployed. The idea here is that Lotteria or other South Korean companies in the future would lobby their own governments not to have U.S. missile facilities.

What’s really interesting is the way that China acted during the coronavirus. I have seen these ways that the Chinese Communist Party has politicized a lot of its economic ties for these narrow authoritarian political interests. I’ve watched them for years doing that more and more. With coronavirus, we saw the Chinese government deploy this exact kind of power for the first time on an issue that literally affects every person in the world, and that was the discussion of the origins of the coronavirus. So, the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, and almost immediately the Chinese government levied a bunch of tariffs on Australian imports into China and very dramatically affected their wine industry and a number of other industries there. That is the same kind of economic coercion.

JT: What are some of those industries that the Chinese are especially influential in? Obviously, technology is one of those, but what are some of the other industries that have global effects? 

Bethany: Well, one of the earliest examples of this is Hollywood. For example, in 1997, two major films were released that were sympathetic to the Tibetan people. One of them was Seven Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt and one of them was Kundun, which was a Disney film about the life of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese government, as a response, didn’t allow Disney’s Mulan to be shown in China. That was the punishment for Disney. Then, for the studio that had produced Seven Years in Tibet, all of their movies for years afterward were kept out of the Chinese market, even if they had nothing to do with China. And Hollywood really got that lesson. I don’t know of any other industry that was targeted so early, so dramatically, and so effectively, because 1997 was the last time that there was a major Hollywood production about Tibet, and there have been no big blockbuster films that present China in a negative light or across some kind of obvious red line. 

There’ve been numerous examples of self-censorship in Hollywood and that’s just gotten more obvious and more extreme, especially under Xi Jinping, and especially now, as the Chinese box office is the largest box office in the world. We’re seeing so many examples of that and even a proactive messaging that is pro-CCP.  For instance, we’re not going to get from Hollywood a movie like Hotel Rwanda for the Uyghurs. If that movie is made, it’s not going to be made by a major Hollywood studio because it wouldn’t pass CCP censors. 

Technology is a more current example. What’s happening now is not that China’s markets themselves are so lucrative, which they are, but the Chinese tech scene is actually very vibrant. Their STEM research and science and technology sector is really cutting edge, with the possibility of leading the world in artificial intelligence and quantum computing and some of these other emerging technologies. This is a whole other level of influence, and it’s an explicit policy by the Chinese government. This means that tech companies in the U.S. not only feel that they need to tap the market for revenue, but also that they need access. Maybe at some point they’re going to want to do partnerships or they’re going to need access to certain forms of technology to do what they’re doing. 

This is looming in our near future, and what we have seen over and over from the Chinese Communist Party is that any time they have that kind of leverage, they use it for political reasons. And it’s far beyond just censorship. I really want to move past that as the type of control and influence that we’re talking about. We’re talking about shaping behaviors, shaping global standards, shaping how these companies push their own government, what they push on their own governments, how to regulate them, and what they allow, and even shaping what’s considered acceptable for an American company to do or to be a part of. 

For example, the Chinese tech sector has become so influential they are trying to change government backing, trying to set standards by a U.N. standard-setting agency. The Chinese government is trying to set the global norms for issues that are in themselves harmless, but could give a big advantage to Chinese companies. So an interesting analogy here would be 3G. U.S. companies are the ones who set the standards for 3G, and that gave them a huge advantage in the 3G market around the world. So U.S. companies were like the largest telecommunications companies in the world, and it gave them an enormous amount of power which greatly contributed to American prosperity. The Chinese government and Chinese companies are trying to do that, for example, with 5G, with them being the ones that set these very technical standards that would set Huawei and ZTE and other companies up for decades of dominance, with lots of wealth flowing into the hands of Chinese elites. A difference is that the Chinese government would absolutely politicize that power and that excess in a way that the U.S. government never did.

JT: Can you give us a little context on China today about the state of surveillance?

Bethany: The Chinese government is building what you can call a modern 21st-century surveillance state. They implement real name registration, so it’s a lot harder to hide behind anonymous accounts. Local public security bureaus generally have a cyber section, so they monitor what people are saying online, in emails, and all kinds of web traffic in real time. They call in people to talk and arrest people based on what they say or do online, which, you know from a crime-fighting perspective is OK. But in China, when there’s a ton of political crimes, any kind of speech can potentially be criminal, or any kind of organizing action can be criminal. 

The assumption is that if you’re in China, anything that you’re saying or doing online is being monitored either by a human being or by some kind of algorithm that will send alerts to a real person. This is going to happen whether you’re chatting on WeChat, which is like WhatsApp, whether you’re talking on the phone, whether you’re sending emails, your bank transactions; basically anything can be monitored, and that’s enabled in part by increasingly sophisticated data analysis. Since there are not enough human beings to monitor all of that, there are also tons of surveillance cameras blanketing cities throughout China with facial recognition technology. And there is a growing ability to use data to analyze what those images are so that it doesn’t have to be monitored by people like security guards staring at TVs. There’s a sense now that it’s very difficult to hide anywhere, whether or not you should be able to hide or not. 

JT: You wrote a piece last fall at Axios about the pressure that China is exerting on corporate sponsors not to drop them and not to disassociate with the Winter Games, employing somewhat of a “loyalty test.” Can you speak a little bit more about this “loyalty test” that you wrote about last fall and how the Chinese Communist Party has influence over corporations around the world? 

Bethany: Let me first unpack the term privacy in America. In the West, we talk about privacy in a kind of lazy way. We conflate privacy vis-a-vis corporations and privacy in terms of the government. So, whether it’s Google or the U.S. government mining our data, we don’t really draw a distinction between them. It’s all just privacy issues. But, according to the Chinese government, they think about this differently. They have a dividing line there. The Chinese government has promised to improve consumer privacy, and they just passed the data privacy law. They’re trying to have a stronger legal environment around what Chinese companies can do, how they can get data, when they’re allowed to get data, what kinds of notifications they have to get to consumers to get their data, what they can do with that data, and they’re trying to create a stronger legal environment for that. That’s a real thing that’s happening that’s improving privacy. 

However, at the same time, they’re doing everything they can to completely erase all barriers between any data that exists and the Chinese government. They want as much data in real time as possible. So these are two very dramatically bifurcated paths on privacy regarding pressure that the Chinese government puts on corporate sponsors. For example, it was almost certainly the case that if one of the top-level corporate sponsors of the Beijing Olympics withdrew and said they were doing it because of human rights concerns, not only would they lose, but it’s very likely you would see the Chinese government take extensive retaliatory measures against them in the Chinese market. 

This happened to H&M last year when H&M said that they were no longer going to be sourcing their cotton from Xinjiang — the cotton industry in Xinjiang is very closely intertwined with Uyghur coerced labor. And when H&M said that, it resulted in a state-banned consumer boycott in China, and their H&M stores were removed from maps so people had a hard time getting there. 

JT: In your opinion, do you think these diplomatic boycotts of the Olympics or the rhetoric turn-around where some are calling these the “Genocide Olympics” is actually going to affect China negatively or exert any type of influence? 

Bethany: I think that every little bit helps, and I think that’s what’s going to happen here. For any history on the Olympics, and specifically Olympics that were boycotted, Beijing will be in there, and the reason that it was boycotted will be there forever. Because there has been this push toward diplomatic boycotts, many governments have had to consider whether or not they will participate. The simple act of considering means learning about what’s happening in Xinjiang. Governments have been forced to learn about what’s happening in Xinjiang and to make a decision that matters. It has greatly increased the prominence and the global discussion around what’s happening in Xinjiang, and that matters. 

Is it going to stop the genocide? No. But in the global efforts to push back against it, every little action builds up over time, and now we have a whole host of sanctions. Even just three years ago, just getting a sanction seemed impossible because the last time there was a human rights-based sanction on China was after Tiananmen, 30 years ago. Now, not only is it possible, but the EU created an entirely new human rights-sanction mechanism and used it on China. So it does matter, and I’m optimistic about the fact that there were diplomatic boycotts. 

JT: What are some resources that you might recommend for listeners if they want to learn more about the history of China or the progress that China has made? Or maybe some of the ways that China is interconnected in the global atmosphere? 

Bethany: Here are some resources I would recommend:

By / Dec 14

WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 14, 2021—Brent Leatherwood, acting president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, commented on the announced Congressional agreement on the final legislative text of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

“I was heartened to learn of the compromise reached by the U.S. House and Senate that allows this legislation to move forward,” said Leatherwood. “At a time when Washington is synonymous with gridlock, it is no small thing for members of Congress to work together on a bipartisan basis to get this critical bill to the President’s desk. Its passage ensures America will take steps to counter China for its genocidal treatment of the Uyghurs. President Biden should sign it into law without delay.”

“I’m grateful for the leadership of Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.) for spearheading this effort. Six months ago, the SBC spoke with one voice to become the first denomination to rightly label the atrocities being perpetrated against the Uyghur people a genocide. I am confident our entire convention of churches is thankful our nation will no longer tolerate the CCP profiting from its ghoulish oppression of the Uyghurs once this Act becomes law.”  

On Dec. 3, Leatherwood sent a letter on behalf of the ERLC to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging the government to take swift action in countering China morally. 

“The United States must send a strong message to the Chinese Communist Party that products made through forced labor will not be accepted because these egregious inhumane practices will not be tolerated,” Leatherwood wrote.

The ERLC has consistently advocated on behalf of the Uyghurs and condemned the CCP’s unconscionable human rights abuses against them and other ethnic minorities. Below are ERLC assets calling attention to the plight of the Uyghurs. 

By / Dec 6

Chelsea Sobolik welcomes Ambassador John Cotton Richmond, the former U.S. Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons from 2018 to 2021 to human trafficking, forced labor, how Christians can get involved in caring for vulnarble people, and how the Lord led Ambassador Richmond into this work.

Listen to part one here.

Guest Biography

Ambassador Richmond’s career has taken him to the front lines in the global battle against human trafficking. As a Partner at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, he focuses on the intersection between business and human rights. John advises companies on how to keep their supply chains free of forced labor and their workforces free of sex trafficking.

Before joining Dentons, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed John, and he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons from 2018 to 2021. Serving in the nation’s highest-ranking position dedicated to human trafficking, John led U.S. foreign policy related to modern slavery and coordinated the U.S. government’s response to the crime.

Prior to his appointment as Ambassador, John served for over a decade as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, where he prosecuted numerous victim-centered labor and sex trafficking cases. He also co-founded the Human Trafficking Institute and lived in India for three years pioneering International Justice Mission’s slavery work.

John has received numerous honors and commendations, including being named a “Prosecutor of the Year” and receiving the David Alred Award for exceptional contributions to civil rights. His work caused the former head of the FBI’s human trafficking program to call him “every trafficker’s worst nightmare.”

John received his undergraduate degree from the University of Mary Washington and his law degree from Wake Forest University. Ambassador Richmond is a writer and frequent speaker on topics of faith, justice, vocation, and parenting and is a Fellow at the C.S. Lewis Institute. He lives outside Washington, D.C., with his “Lovely and Talented” wife and their three robust and remarkable children.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Oct 9

Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims. The state-sanctioned violence has come in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), China’s western-most territory, where Uyghurs have lived for centuries. The CCP is using totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. Many Uyghurs are living a nightmare. 

The CCP has forcibly placed an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs into internment camps and has continued to build new camps. An aspect of the regime’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims that has rightly received an increased amount of scrutiny is how Uyghurs are subjected to compulsory labor. The U.S. Department of Labor released a new report at the end of September documenting global forced labor and specifically highlighting China’s abuses. According to the report, “Estimates range from at least 100,000 to possibly hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in China who may be working in conditions of forced labor following detention in Chinese Communist Party re-education camps.” China has the world’s second largest economy, but it is the world’s worst perpetrator of forced labor.

China is the world’s largest cotton producer, and the vast majority of those exports come from Xinjiang. For many Uyghurs, the reeducation camps are a launching pad to compulsory labor in this industry. Whether in Xinjiang or throughout China, the CCP is relocating Uyghurs and exploiting them for free or underpaid labor. Because of China’s significant cotton exports, companies that operate in Xinjiang or purchase cotton or clothing from China run the risk of financially supporting the oppression of the Uyghur people. A March 2020 report titled “Uyghurs for Sale” from a non-partisan Australian think tank looks at the supply chains of over 80 international brands in the technology, clothing, and automotive sectors. The report’s findings document how Uyghur workers have been compelled to work in factories that are connected to the supply chains of those global brands.

Forced labor is a violation of U.S. and international law, and it’s illegal for companies to import goods manufactured wholly or in part by forced labor. Recently, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued five Withhold Release Orders (WRO) on products from China, including some imports of cotton, apparel, hair products, computer parts, and other goods from China’s Xinjiang region due to the government’s “illicit, inhumane, and exploitative practices of forced labor.”

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. This bipartisan and bicameral piece of legislation prohibits goods made with forced labor in XUAR or by entities using Uyghur labor forcibly transferred from the XUAR from entering the U.S. market. This legislation also instructs the U.S. government to impose sanctions against any foreign person who knowingly engages in the forced labor of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the XUAR.

The Senate should swiftly pass this bill as well and send it to the president’s desk. Our government should ensure America’s markets are not complicit with the CCP’s atrocities against the Uyghur people.

Slavery is a reprehensible part of U.S. history. But as a country founded on the unrealized ideals of human freedom, we have a moral duty to ensure that our economic practices do not support modern-day slavery in any part of the world. Every person is created in the image of God, has innate dignity and worth, and deserves to be treated with respect. We must ensure that our trade policies do not place profits above people.

For far too long, the Chinese Communist Party has financially profited around the world from forced labor from the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. This violation of human rights must be stopped. The U.S. government must continue sending a strong message to the Chinese government that products made through forced labor will not be traded within our shores because this injustice will not be tolerated. 

Photo attribution: Greg Baker via AFP / Getty Images

By / Aug 17

Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been persecuting Uyghur Muslims, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group, in a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution. The geographic scope of the CCP’s campaign against Uyghurs is global, but primarily restricted to Xinjiang, China’s western-most territory, where Uyghurs have lived for centuries. Under the guise of national security, the CCP is seeking to “pacify” the region with totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. Life for many Uyghurs is a living nightmare. 

Surveillance state of the Chinese Communist Party

For Uyghurs living in Xinjiang, there is no such thing as a private life. The Chinese government has built a pervasive surveillance apparatus that not only records the movements of Uyghurs, but also tracks normal, routine actions. Something as innocent as entering one’s house through the back door, not socializing with neighbors, using WhatsApp, or changing phone numbers could trigger suspicion from China’s highly developed artificial intelligence algorithms

These algorithms intrude into the most sensitive and personal facets of the lives of Uyghurs, tracking their phones, cars, reproductive choices, and political views. The CCP often justifies its detention of Uyghurs on the grounds that they are engaged in extremist or terrorist activity, but the scope of China’s high-tech surveillance far outstrips the problem, resulting in arbitrary intimidation and arrests.

Reeducation camps for Uyghur people

The surveillance networks throughout Xinjiang flag “suspicious” Uyghurs for CCP authorities. Once Chinese police detain a Uyghur for questioning, they are often sent away for “political reeducation.” China has constructed upward of 1,000 internment camps for this purpose. Estimates vary, but experts posit that China has detained between 1 million and 3 million Muslims in these facilities. Aside from political indoctrination, physical and psychological abuse is commonplace throughout these camps, ranging from rape and torture to malnourishment and forced organ harvesting

The CCP also uses these camps to break apart Uyghur families. In cases where Uyghur husbands are sent off to camps, China has sent ethnically Han men to forcibly procreate with the wives who are left behind. In some cases, where both the mother and father are detained, the CCP has sent Uyghur children to government-run boarding schools where all communication with the outside world is strictly regulated.

Forced labor by the Chinese Communist Party

The CCP’s oppression of Uyghur Muslims does not stop at the reeducation. Beginning in 2018, reports began to emerge chronicling how China is exploits this group vocationally. China is the world’s largest cotton producer, and the vast majority of those exports come from Xinjiang. For many Uyghurs, the reeducation camps are a launching pad to compulsory labor in this industry. Whether in Xinjiang or throughout China, the CCP is relocating Uyghurs and exploiting them for free or underpaid labor. 

Because of China’s significant cotton exports, companies that operate in Xinjiang or purchase cotton or clothing from China run the risk of financially supporting the oppression of the Uyghur people. A March 2020 report entitled “Uyghurs for Sale” looks at the supply chains of over 80 international brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors and documents how Uyghur workers have been compelled to work in factories that are connected to the supply chains of those brands.

Forced sterilization of Uyghur women

China has a long history of imposing restrictive family planning on its citizens, and for years strictly enforced the infamous “one-child policy.” The restrictive birth policy has created a stark gender imbalance, and Chinese men today don’t have enough women to marry, resulting in the trafficking of brides and a larger sex trafficking industry. At the end of 2015, the Chinese government loosened its policies, allowing couples to legally conceive two children, and have encouraged Han Chinese to do so.

But while China has relaxed its family planning policy toward Han Chinese, the CCP has severely oppressed Uyghur women with draconian birth control measures. Uyghur women are subjected to forced pregnancy checks, medication that stops their menstrual period, forced abortions, and surgical sterilizations. 

One of the major reasons that Uyghur women are sent to the internment camps is for having too many children. China’s goal, it seems, is to eradicate future generations of Uyghurs by manipulating who can and can’t bear babies, and how many children a family can legally conceive.

How has the U.S. government responded?

In July 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that the United States government would apply “Global Magnitsky Sanctions” to top-ranking Chinese officials and a Chinese government entity for their roles in human rights abuses and religious freedom violations against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed by Congress in 2016, authorizes the executive branch to impose visa bans and other restrictions on any foreign person or entity “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country seeking to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials, or to obtain, exercise, or promote human rights and freedoms.” 

In addition to administrative action, Congress has passed several important pieces of legislation to counter China morally. Recently, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act was signed into law. The legislation imposes sanctions on foreign individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region and requires various reports on the topic.

Congress has likewise introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. This important bill would prohibit goods made with forced labor in Xinjiang or by entities using Uyghur labor forcibly transferred from Xinjian from entering the U.S. market. This legislation also instructs the U.S. government to impose sanctions against any foreign person who knowingly employs or utilizes the forced labor of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.

What can you do to help?

Speak up

Each one of us can use our voice to speak up on behalf of those who can’t speak up for themselves. You can share articles on the persecution of Uyghurs on social media. You can invite a Uyghur to share their story through Zoom to your community. You can urge the U.S. government to continue taking strong measures to address these injustices. Below are some educational resources to continue educating yourself and share with others.

Pray 

We ought to pray often for persecuted people around the world. Below are a few specific ways to pray.

  • Pray for the leaders of China, that they will end their oppression and persecution of their citizens, especially Christians, Uyghurs, and other ethnic and religious minorities. 
  • Pray for Christians in China, that they will be bold in proclaiming the good news of the gospel, and that they will stand up for those who are being persecuted.
  • Pray for world leaders, that they will have the courage and wisdom to counter China morally and hold the CCP accountable for their gross violations of human rights.

Christians should be on the frontlines of advocating for the dignity and human rights of all people. We cannot remain silent or complacent in the face of such injustices.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) routinely violates the basic human rights of the Chinese people. Their decades of abuse are well documented, including systematically monitoring and destroying Christian churches.

By / Aug 12

The ERLC supports the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act to send the message to the CCP that these abuses cannot continue, and urges Congress to pass this legislation.

The ERLC affirms that all people are created in God’s image and have innate dignity and worth, and deserve to be treated with respect. The right to believe, practice, and live according to one’s own religious faith is a God-given, fundamental human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 2 that “everyone is entitled to the freedom of religion and belief without distinction of any kind, including race, language, religion, or national or social origin.”

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) routinely violates the basic human rights of the Uyghur people. Since 2017, China has systematically detained more than one million Uyghur Muslims and placed them into what it describes as “re-education camps”. In these internment camps, better described as modern-day concentration camps, Uyghurs are prevented from engaging in their religious practices and face physical and physiological harassment.

The CCP systematically subjects Uyghurs to forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and throughout China. The Uyghur people are forced to produce goods that are then sold around the world, including in the United States, and the CCP is financially profiting from this reprehensible practice. Currently, any brand sourcing apparel, textiles, yarn or cotton from XUAR is almost certainly profiting from forced Uyghur labor. Brands and retailers have a moral duty to ensure they are not supporting or benefiting from forced labor. This despicable practice is a clear violation of human rights, and the United States must hold China accountable for these atrocities. 

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act prohibits goods made with forced labor in the  XUAR or by entities using Uyghur labor forcibly transferred from the XUAR from entering the U.S. market. This legislation also instructs the U.S. government to impose sanctions against any foreign person who knowingly engages in the forced labor of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the XUAR.

The United States must send a strong message to the CCP that products made through forced labor will not be accepted because these egregious inhumane practices will not be tolerated. It is unconscionable for a free country like the United States to ultimately be accomplices in this Communist Party’s plan to profit from slave labor. In holding the CCP accountable for the horrors that occur on a daily basis in the labor camps of Xinjiang, the United States has the opportunity to send a clear message that total disregard for human life will not be tolerated. 

By / Sep 1

In 2011, the federal government filed a human trafficking lawsuit in the largest case of alleged forced labor of farm workers in the United States. 200 men from Thailand had been brought to the United States legally through a worker visa, but were recruited under false pretenses. They were charged exorbitant recruitment fees by their employer and upon arrival had their passports and other documentation confiscated. The workers were not paid for the work and in many cases were constrained to the farm on which they worked. Their living conditions were inhumane, described as cramped, dirty and uninhabitable. At times they were physically abused, including incidents in which company officials slapped a worker in the head and threw a worker against a wall. Additionally, the men were threatened with deportation if they took any action to complain about their working conditions or to seek legal help. The company responsible was successfully found liable for abuse in 2014.

William Wilberforce, the British abolitionist, spent decades of his life fighting for the abolition of slavery, saying, ““Is it not the great end of religion, and, in particular, the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends; and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative social and civil duties?” Yet, slavery did not end with a re-writing of British laws but has morphed into a more sophisticated and hidden industry. The trafficking industry today is the fastest growing criminal industry in the United States, just behind drug trafficking. While in some cases, like the Thai laborers, the trafficking victims are identified and given protection, many victims of trafficking live in the shadows across many industries, and in many homes, in the United States.

Fighting human trafficking has been a sustained area of focus for many people of faith across the country for good reason. For Christians, the commitment to abolish slavery and human trafficking is driven by our conviction that all human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We believe fundamentally that every human being possesses inherent dignity and the right to freedom. The very sin that is talked about in the Bible (lust, greed, power, and selfishness among others) is what fuels the $32 billion trafficking industry, with half coming from industrialized countries.

In the United States, victims of trafficking come from a wide variety of backgrounds and a diverse pool of gender, racial, religious, and cultural identities, but there is an astonishing common denominator-a large portion of trafficking victims in the United States are immigrants. Thus, a conversation about ending human trafficking in the United States is incomplete without a conversation about immigration. A recent briefing paper released by the Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking (FAAST) found that 95% of labor trafficking victims in the United States are foreign-born. At least two-thirds of these victims are undocumented. In addition, at least 17% of sex trafficking victims in the United States are non-citizens.

God recognized immigrants as particularly vulnerable, along with widows and orphans, in the Old Testament because they didn’t have family or social structures to care for them. They often faced injustice and were prone to being taken advantage of. God exhorted the Israelites in Leviticus 19:33-34, “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” In Isaiah 58: 6, the prophet was angry with the Israelites who exploited their workers and describes true fasting “to loose the chain of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.” As followers of Christ, we must seek the abolition of all slavery and promote freedom and justice not just in the darkest corners of the world but even as it happens in our own backyards.

Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to traffickers because they are a population marked by disproportionately lower socio-economic status, limited education, linguistic and cultural unfamiliarity, and fear of law enforcement. Traffickers prey on immigrants in the United States because many immigrants often speak limited English. Traffickers use an immigrant’s lack of legal status to exploit them, saying if they report the abuse to the authorities they will immediately get deported. Such fear often drives immigrants to work in deplorable working conditions, often getting unpaid and abused in the process. The dysfunction in our immigration system, which often makes it impossible to immigrate legally, effectively encourages unlawful behavior and is used as a tool for traffickers to prey upon the vulnerable. This is especially apparent with the increase in unaccompanied minors crossing our border.

Before 2012, the United States received less than 10,000 unaccompanied children per year, but there have been over 50,000 who have arrived in this past year alone.  They come predominantly from the “northern triangle” countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which incidentally according to the 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, are the top three countries from which trafficking victims in the United States come.

The stories of many of these young people are compelling. One Christian service agency focused on immigrant services compiled some of these young people’s stories as follows:

Jesús* is a 17 year old Guatemalan boy who came to the U.S. to escape a drug-trafficking gang who brutally murdered some of his family. When Jesus was 7 years old, his older sister and older brother were kidnapped. The family paid money to the kidnappers but the children were not released. Authorities eventually found the mutilated bodies of his siblings. The group that murdered the siblings started making threats to the rest of his family. Jesus and his younger sister started being intimidated in the community by people they believed to be part of a drug trafficking gang. These threats caused Jesus to decide to flee to the U.S. A child like Jesus might apply for a trafficking visa, special immigrant juvenile status visa, or asylum.

Dominic*, 15 year old boy, fled Guatemala’s gangs.  In Dominic’s neighborhood, a gang tried to recruit him and pressure him into smoking marijuana. His friend told him one day that members of the gang were waiting in a nearby park to physically assault the minor. Dominic immediately made the choice to start his journey to the U.S. A child like Dominic might apply for asylum.

Maria*, a 12 year old girl from Central America was trafficked for labor and sex, she fled with her baby to escape slavery. Maria was 12 years old, when she was kidnapped at gunpoint and taken to a home where she was held captive. She was beaten and raped on an almost daily basis and eventually forced into prostitution. Because of this she became pregnant and gave birth to a girl while captive. Maria fled with her child, riding on top of trains so that they might escape the sexual bondage. Maria ended up qualifying for a T-visa and is currently doing well. She has now graduated high school.

Congress recognized the specific vulnerabilities of youth and included provisions in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims and Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 to transfer children to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within 72 hours. This ensures that children who could be fleeing persecution or trafficking are able to present their case before an immigration judge, not a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. A multi-faceted approach is needed that includes the best interest of the child in decision-making, inter-agency collaboration and an investment of resources in effectively addressing root causes of migration from Central America and Mexico.

But more must be done. A broken immigration system has become a trafficker’s best friend. As Congress dithers around immigration reform, opportunities for exploitation, abuse, and trafficking abound. Passing immigration reform is not just good for our economy and national security, but it’s the right thing to do to care for some of the most vulnerable people in our country — victims of trafficking, refugees, and immigrants — who live in constant fear that the protection of the law doesn’t extend to them.

The church also has a choice in its response towards immigrants in our country. The church is the most powerful agent of hope and restoration in our world today. As followers of Jesus, we have a mandate to care for the poor, the suffering, those who are abandoned, and those who are exploited. Awareness about the vulnerabilities of immigrants and human trafficking is needed, but Christians should also extend hospitality to immigrants who are living amongst us.  Holistically responding to the needs of immigrants, including teaching English, helping navigate unfamiliar cities, and just offering basic friendship can make a world of difference. For those impacted by human trafficking, this can also include providing support and healing to victims, preventing situations of trafficking by reducing demand, and supporting and encouraging public policies that may reduce the prevalence of human trafficking and other contemporary versions of slavery.

Joseph, one of the heroes of faith in the Bible, was not only an immigrant but a victim of human trafficking. Sold into slavery by his brothers, he rose to be the second highest rank besides Pharaoh. His migration experience marked his walk with God and placed him in a position where he was eventually able to save the people of Israel from famine.

Scripture is clear that the movement of people are a part of God’s sovereign plan to draw people to Himself. Acts 17:26-27 says that “From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” We have an opportunity to reach the nations for Christ without ever having to leave our neighborhood. But given the stark vulnerabilities of many immigrants, we also have an opportunity to speak out against injustice and ensure our government creates laws that ensure protection for the most vulnerable of our society, as William Wilberforce did.

Immigration may test the bounds of our hospitality and make us feel uncomfortable, but by seeing migration as a greater part of God’s mission in the world, the stranger can be a blessing (Hebrews 13:2) rather than someone to be feared.