China’s treatment of the Uighur people amounts to torture, the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has said as he set out measures designed to ensure no companies allow the use of forced labour from Xinjiang province in their supply chain. Deterrent fines will be imposed on firms that do not show due diligence in cleaning up their supply chains, he said, The Guardian writes.
The aim, he told MPs, 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”.
He also proposed a review of export controls to Xinjiang province – the region in which tens of thousands of Uighur Muslims have been detained; new guidance to companies operating in the province; and a commitment that the Modern Slavery Act will be extended to the public sector.
Raab also said the government was reviewing the role of China’s Confucius Institutes operating in British academic institutions.
But the foreign secretary held back from imposing sanctions against any individual Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses, saying “he will keep that in reserve”.
The tightening up of the Modern Slavery Act, including company-reporting requirements, largely follows the recommendations of a government-commissioned report, overseen by the MP Frank Field, and published in May 2019 that found many companies treated the act as a box-ticking exercise. Critics said the review merely imposes fines if companies with an annual turnover of more than £36m do not produce an annual report.
His package is likely to be seen as the bare minimum by critics of Chinese human rights, and will do little to stem a potential rebellion by those critics demanding that the government endorse amendments passed in the Lords that make human rights a central consideration in future trade deals.
Labour’s Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, said the robustness of Raab’s words had not been matched by his actions, adding there was little that was new and “amounted to tinkering around the edges”. Far from going further than any other country, she said France had already gone further than the UK.
But the scale of Raab’s criticisms of China were striking, accusing the country of “extensive and invasive surveillance targeting minorities, systematic restrictions on Uighur culture, education, and the practice of Islam, and the widespread use of forced labour”. Satellite imagery showed the scale of the internment camps, the presence of factories inside them, and the destruction of mosques, he said.