The British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has announced a set of business measures that intend to ensure that British firms are “not complicit in, nor profiting from” human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang province.
The aim, Raab set out was to,
“ensure no company that profits from forced labour in Xinjiang can do business in the UK, that no UK business is involved in their supply chains”.
Incursions on the rights of China’s Uyghur minority have been increasing in frequency in recent years; with the introduction of internment camps, mass surveillance and forced labour drawing widespread condemnation.
In December 2020, documents that provided insight into the use of forced labour in Xinjiang were published, finding evidence of Uyghur forced labour in manufacturing and garment making. The scale of such labour is truly unprecedented, with 85% of China’s cotton, and 20% of the world’s cotton, produced in Xinjiang.
Raab’s statement, which comes in response to concerns over UK complicity in such violations, announced a set of measures including:
- A review of export controls to ensure the government is doing all it can to prevent the exports of goods that may contribute to Xinjiang human rights abuses.
- New financial penalties on businesses who fail to publish annual modern slavery statements, under the Modern Slavery Act.
- The introduction of guidance for UK business which sets out the specific risks undertaken by organisations with links to Xinjiang.
- The provision of guidance to all UK public bodies to use public procurement legislation to exclude suppliers where there is evidence of human rights violations in supply chains.
- The establishment of a campaign of business engagement to reinforce the need for UK businesses to take action.
Conservative Ministers were vocal in their support of the measures, with Home Secretary, Priti Patel, calling on British businesses and public bodies to “be more vigilant” and:
“ensure they are not inadvertently allowing forced labour in their supply chains”
This sentiment was echoed by Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, who said that:
“Forced labour, anywhere in the world, is unacceptable. This Government wants to work with businesses to support responsible practices, and ensure British consumers are not unwittingly buying products that support the cruelty we are witnessing against the Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.”
The introduction of these measures comes at a time when the British government is reconsidering its relationship with China. The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission called for a “comprehensive review” of policy toward China, condemning the flagrant persecution of Uyghur Muslims and the establishment of an “Orwellian surveillance state”.
While the introduction of new measures, which highlight the blatant incursions on human rights in Xinjiang are welcome, it remains to be seen whether the government will enforce them once the UK attempts to negotiate a free-trade agreement with China.