UK moves to ban Chinese imports linked to forced Uighur labour

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on January 12, 2021, told parliament that Britain had a "moral duty to respond" to human rights abuses by China
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on January 12, 2021, told parliament that Britain had a "moral duty to respond" to human rights abuses by China - PRU/AFP

British companies will face fines unless they meet new government requirements showing their supply chains are free from forced labour, the UK's foreign secretary said Tuesday as he announced measures aimed at tackling human rights abuses against the Uighur minority in China’s Xinjiang region. 


British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said officials have issued guidance to British firms with links to Xinjiang on how to carry out due diligence checks. The government intends to exclude suppliers when there is evidence of rights violations in their supply chains and also to review export controls to prevent the shipping of any goods that could contribute to such violations in Xinjiang.

“Our aim, put simply, is that no company that profits from forced labour in Xinjiang can do business in the UK and that no UK business is involved in their supply chains,” Raab told lawmakers.

However, Raab didn’t provide details, and he stopped short of announcing specific sanctions against Chinese officials.

Beijing has been accused of widespread rights abuses in its far western Xinjiang region, mainly targeting the Muslim Uighur population. Raab said mounting evidence, including first-hand testimony and non-profit reports, supports claims of unlawful mass detention in internment camps, widespread forced labour and forced sterilisation of women on an “industrial scale".

The evidence “paints a harrowing picture” and showed the practice of “barbarism we had hoped lost to another era,” Raab said.

China slams 'baseless political attack'

Responding to Britain's criticism of its human rights record, China's ambassador to the UN on Tuesday warned the UK not to interfere in its internal affairs.

Zhang Jun slammed what he termed a baseless "political attack" after a speech from British government minister James Cleverly targeting alleged human rights violations in China's Xinjiang province.

China denies accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, maintaining that the claims are fake news or lies perpetrated by Western media.

Beijing says measures were needed to deradicalise the population after a series of attacks in the Xinjiang region several years ago. 

Threats not enough, say activists, opposition

Among the measures announced on Tuesday, Britain will fine firms with a turnover of at least 36 million pounds ($49 million) that fail to publish an annual transparency statement as required by the Modern Slavery Act.

Details of the fines have not yet been specified.

A fifth of about 18,625 companies required to comply with Britain's anti-slavery law have not issued statements, according to Transparency in the Supply Chain (TISC) - a public database.

Britain's anti-slavery tsar Sara Thornton welcomed the new measures but said the threat of fines was not enough and urged the government to force non-compliant firms to file a statement.

The US customs agency blocked imports of clothing and other goods from Xinjiang last year over the forced labor issue.

Britain's opposition Labour Party also called for more concrete action, with Lisa Nandy, the party's foreign affairs spokesperson, noting that Raab's words did not match his actions.

“I’m sorry to say that that will be noticed loud and clear in Beijing,” she said. 

British retailer Marks & Spencer last week became one of the first major brands to back a civil society initiative to stop forced labour in cotton and garment sourcing from Xinjiang.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)



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