GENEVA—The United States, Britain, and other countries on June 2 called for the International Labour Organization (ILO) to set up a mission to probe alleged labor abuses in China’s Xinjiang and urged Beijing to allow unfettered access.
A committee at the U.N. agency is addressing China’s compliance with global labor standards after describing its practices in the western region of Xinjiang as discriminatory in February, ILO documents showed.
The June 2 meeting comes just days after the end of a trip by U.N. High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to Xinjiang that has been widely criticized by both civil society and U.N. member states including the United States.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in March that China “continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity” against mostly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
A so-called tripartite mission, if accepted by the ILO committee, could shine a light on allegations that Uyghurs have been unlawfully detained, mistreated, and forced to work. China denies the accusations.
The US ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva Sheba Crocker called for China to accept the mission to investigate what she described as “systemic violations of labor and human rights.”
Britain’s envoy asked for the trip to be conducted before the next major ILO conference in 2023. Australia, Canada, and the European Union also voiced support.
Through a series of virtual interventions, including a Uyghur furnace worker, China claimed that its laws, regulations and practices are fully in line with the principles of conventions that it has ratified.
The prospective ILO mission would evaluate China’s practices on the basis of its ratified conventions.
The June 2 committee, made up of government, employer, and workers’ delegates, is set to make a decision next week on whether to accept the mission request.
Sending a tripartite mission to China could be a first step toward further action.
As well as a tripartite mission, ILO members also have the option to seek a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to go to China, which would have more investigative powers.
This requires a formal complaint. Some 35 such complaints have been filed in the ILO’s more than 100-year history, of which less than half have led to COI missions, the ILO official said. In only one case were sanctions applied, against Burma in 1998.