Global perspective Human stories

China: 'Vocational training' programmes for Tibetans carry risk of forced labour

Two elderly Tibetan people walk to a religious event in Lhasa.
© Unsplash/Aden Lao
Two elderly Tibetan people walk to a religious event in Lhasa.

China: 'Vocational training' programmes for Tibetans carry risk of forced labour

Human Rights

So-called “labour transfer” and “vocational training” programmes in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, threaten Tibetan cultural identity and could lead to forced labour conditions, UN independent human rights experts warned on Thursday.  

“Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have reportedly been ‘transferred’ from their traditional rural lives to low-skilled and low-paid employment since 2015, through a programme described as voluntary, but in practice their participation has reportedly been coerced,” they said in a statement

‘Cultural and political indoctrination’ 

They noted that the labour transfer programme is facilitated by a network of ‘vocational training centres’ which focus on “cultural and political indoctrination in a militarised environment”

Tweet URL

Participants are reportedly prevented from using the Tibetan minority language and discouraged from expressing their religious identity, both of which the authorities consider as obstacles to poverty alleviation.  

The experts feared the programme could further impoverish Tibetans and lead to them being forced to work. 

No oversight mechanisms 

“Tibetans are being drawn away from sustainable livelihoods in which they have traditionally had a comparative advantage, such as wool and dairy production, and into low-paid, low-skilled work in manufacturing and construction,” they said.  

“Tibetans are transferred directly from training centres to their new workplaces, leaving it unclear whether they are consenting to this new employment. There is no oversight to determine whether working conditions constitute forced labour,” they added. 

The experts called on China to clarify the measures in place for Tibetans to opt out of vocational training and labour transfer programmes, to monitor the working conditions in their new places of employment, and to ensure respect for Tibetan religious, linguistic and cultural identity. 

They have received an initial response from the Government and remain in contact with the authorities regarding these issues. 

Independent rights experts 

The six experts who issued the statement are all Special Rapporteurs appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

Their individual mandates cover issues such as contemporary forms of slavery, trafficking in persons, cultural rights and minority issues. 

Special Rapporteurs and other rights experts appointed by the Council work on a voluntary basis and are independent from any Government or organization. They are not UN staff and do not receive payment for their work.