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The Hostile Environment for Uyghur Workers Uncovered

Through exclusive analysis, Byline Times investigates the wider repression and racism faced by ethnic minority people in China

Uyghur Chinese women buying children’s clothes at a market in western Xinjiang, China. Photo: Paul Springett 10/Alamy

The Hostile Environment for Uyghur Workers Uncovered

Through exclusive analysis, Byline Times investigates the wider repression and racism faced by ethnic minority people in China

In 2001, Purkat Sali graduated from Xinjiang University in north-western China with a degree in engineering. His father, a lecturer at the university, rebuffed his son’s request to find him employment at the school “through the back door”, urging him instead to accept an offer with a steel manufacturing company in Urumqi.

Through this firm, Sali and another Uyghur – an ethnic minority group living in Xinjiang – were assigned to a factory to work as electricians, despite having applied for sales positions.

Five of their fellow interns, all of whom were Han Chinese – the country’s dominant ethnic group – were offered their desired positions, along with better wages.

When Sali asked his Han Chinese superior why he hadn’t received a job in sales, he was told bluntly: “This department has a turnover of millions – do you think we are going to let a Uyghur work here? You will just use the money to buy guns!” 

His experience typifies the systemic discrimination indigenous Uyghurs face from Han Chinese employers in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region.

While China’s detainment of Uyghur people in concentration camps and the use of the detainees as forced labour has been widely documented, the way in which free and freed Uyghur citizens – and other Chinese ethnic minorities – are systematically discriminated against in the labour market has received less attention.

When Chinese companies need personnel, they typically turn to human resources firms, which post their clients’ vacant positions on recruitment websites, such as and

When Byline Times conducted an analysis of job adverts posted on these two sites during a recent three-day period by searching for postings that openly refer to ‘Uyghurs’ and ‘ethnic minorities’, it found that more than half (55%) of job openings expressly stated that Uyghur, Hui, Yi and Tibetan applicants would not be considered by the respective company.

A further 24% stated that their employment “quota” for the four ethnic minority groups was full, while 7% expressed a specific need for Uyghur employees to give the company a market-friendly face because of the way in which Uyghurs are considered “exotic” and attractive. 9% demanded that ethnic minorities meet certain restrictive conditions to qualify as candidates, with some employers stating that they would not consider applicants observing Islamic dietary practices. They would be “accepting only non-fasting minorities”, they said, which not only typically excludes Uyghurs, but also ethnic Hui and several other ethnic Muslim groups living in China.

Only 5% of job adverts stated that “ethnic minorities are accepted”. Many job vacancies contained discriminatory language, with one company refusing to hire ethnic minorities with a “violent temper”, and another accepting them only if “they are not picky and can do things practically”.

Discrimination Encouraged by the State 

Nyrola Elimä, a data analyst of Uyghur origin now living in Sweden, says that ethnic minority discrimination in China stems directly from the Government and is linked to the country’s poverty alleviation programme. 

“[The state] will always create propaganda to show ethnic minorities as chaotic, lazy or they would show that we are so uneducated and exotic,” she told Byline Times. “They will make us look so difficult, like as extra chaos for the factory or the company. Every time they do the propaganda to introduce Tibetans or Uyghur people or Yi, they will make it look like, ‘because of the Chinese Government’s efforts, they finally have modern thought’.” 

Discriminatory language is not only routinely deployed in online job listings, but also in Government documents. 

In a Chinese Government document titled ‘Employment and Labour Rights in Xinjiang’ – which was published last year – the Uyghurs of Xinjiang are described as having an “outdated mindset”; while a report by the Centre for Global Policy concluded that blaming ethnic minorities for “ingrained laziness and lack of work discipline, even a lack of valuing work” is a cornerstone of state propaganda.

According to Elimä, the Chinese Government pays subsidies and offers tax breaks to companies that are ready to employ Uyghur people and those from rural areas under the poverty alleviation policy. 

“If you can have Uyghur people in the factory, of course as an owner you will immediately think, ‘why should I pay them? I can take the Government subsidy and let the Government put laborers into my factory’,” she said. “I don’t want to say this as an expert, but as a Uyghur, I can tell you that this is… slave trade.”

She also believes that state-hired and sponsored influencers spread rumours and racist posts about Uyghur people online.

“They will always specifically, and very strategically, attack minorities, especially Muslim minorities,” she told Byline Times. “They will say that the Government has created convenience for us. They will spread rumours, saying that, if Uyghur people murder a community member, they don’t go to prison. Having this social media environment, what will you think? Of course, you will think, ‘ugh, [Uyghurs] are so much trouble’.” 

Henryk Szadziewski, a senior researcher at the US-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, echoes Elimä’s sentiments, saying that labour discrimination is just part of the racism Uyghurs experience every day and that the Chinese Government seeks to portray Uyghurs as a social ill and foreign threat.


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The Western Link

The story of anti-Uyghur discrimination in the Chinese workplace cannot be told without acknowledging how American and European brands have become entangled with China’s discriminatory and forced labour practices – including Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Kraft-Heinz, Adidas, and Coca Cola, among others.

One example of this occurred when the Chinese human resources company Lankao County Star Enterprise Management recently posted a job vacancy for a factory worker in Wuxi, eastern China. The company claimed that the factory produced parts for BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz, with the firm’s personnel manager specifying that “ethnic minorities are accepted only if they don’t observe a religious diet”.  

Both Audi and Mercedes-Benz have production and sales facilities in Wuxi. When Byline Times asked Audi about the advert, a spokesperson said: “Based on the information that we got, we have not been able to identify whether the mentioned entity is an official Audi supplier. Anyway, we take this issue very seriously.” A spokesperson for Mercedes-Benz AG said that the firm was not on its list of suppliers.

Ultimately, Uyghurs in China are left with few choices in the labour market. As Nyrola Elimä says: “You end up with the choice to either fight or endure. The majority of Uyghurs endure.”

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