Britain must not be a safe haven for businesses profiting from Uyghur forced labour

Politics Home, 06 October 2020

Below is an article published by Politics Home. Photo PA Images

For those of us who have been campaigning to raise awareness of the horrific human rights abuses in Xinjiang, it seems that we may finally be cutting through.

The wilful blindness of the international community as China interns millions of Uyghurs and profits from slave labour is simply becoming impossible to ignore. What is less widely known, however, is the extent to which British consumers may be unknowingly supporting businesses which profit from the forced labour that the Chinese Government imposing on the Uyghurs.  

Examining the extent of this problem is at the heart of a new inquiry launched by the Business Select Committee on UK businesses’ supply chains linked to Xinjiang.  

The UK is a beacon of freedom and hope for many but, if we are truly serious about human rights, it is vital that we look at what is happening at home too.Related

Major businesses such as the Walt Disney Company, ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, and clothing giants such as Adidas, Nike and North Face, have questions to answer about their business involvements relating to Xinjiang and the Chinese Communist Party.

Customers across the UK spend their hard-earned cash and put their trust in these major brands – it’s vital they are held to account.

The BEIS Committee inquiry will tie into the wider concern of the suspected genocide taking place in the region, and will take into account objectives and recommendations to the government that I personally have been working on with the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, Hope Not Hate, and Jewish News.  

We are calling for more co-ordinated action on the suspected crimes taking place in Xinjiang. I am also eager that the BEIS Committee’s evidence-gathering about the role of British business informs the Foreign Affairs Committee’s wider work investigating the mass incarceration of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

From the BEIS Committee perspective, I am keen that our inquiry hearing, likely to take place in early November, investigates the risks UK based businesses face when engaging supply chains that originate in China and, crucially, looks at what  more the Government can do to ensure that businesses and consumers in the UK do not perpetuate the forced labour of Uyghur.

One of my major concerns is the question of whether current corporate laws on transparency and auditing supply chains are sufficiently robust, or whether Britain is seen as a safe haven for businesses to hide their links to Xinjiang?

I hope that those with an interest and expertise in these issues, and with an insight into what is happening in Xinjiang and how it links with business here in the UK, will write to us on the BEIS Committee and help inform the questions we will be putting to witnesses in November.

Witness details will be confirmed at a later date, but we are likely to question representatives from the UK fashion industry and from Chinese businesses operating in the UK, and also from NGOs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

It is vital that, as Members of Parliament, we are relentless in our questioning of companies that cosy up to the Chinese Government. There must be no place to hide for companies complicit in human rights abuses – Britons deserve transparency so they can make informed choices as consumers.

Crucially, we will send a very clear message to individuals and businesses the world over: Great Britain will not be a safe haven for those who facilitate, profit from, or associate themselves with the perpetrators of what could well be the most serious genocide in many decades.