Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the U.K. will fine companies if they cover up imports from the Xinjiang region of China, where international observers have accused Beijing of overseeing forced labor by Uighur Muslims.
All companies with an annual turnover of more than 36 million pounds ($49 million) will be obliged to publish a supply chain transparency report or face fines, Raab told Parliament on Tuesday. Public sector procurement will also be banned from the region and there will be tougher export controls.
“This package will help make sure that no British organizations, government or private sector, deliberately or inadvertently profit from or contribute to the human rights violations against the Uighurs or other minorities in Xinjiang.” Raab said. “We will continue to speak up for what is right.”
The measures are designed to be a precise and preemptive tool to tackle abuses in the region, Raab’s office said, though it added there is no way of quantifying how many imports come to the U.K. directly from the region. China was the U.K.’s third-biggest trading partner in 2019, after the U.S. and Germany; the U.K. ranked a distant 14th for China.
“I am left slightly lost for words why the foreign secretary has come here today,” Labour’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Lisa Nandy told the House of Commons. She accused him of “tinkering around the edges,” while other countries are introducing legislation.
“What law would a company actually be breaking if they profit from what he called the barbaric forced labor in Xinjiang?” she asked.
Conservative MP and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat said “dirty goods” are one issue but “dirty money” is another problem, citing Chinese funding at British universities.
In December, the U.S.-based Center for Global Policy published a report alleging new evidence from Chinese government documents and media reports of hundreds of thousands of Uighurs in Xinjiang being forced to pick cotton by hand through coercive state-mandated labor.
Between 2017 and 2019, the Australia-based ASPI think tank estimated that more than 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of the far western Xinjiang autonomous region to work in factories across China. It said some were sent directly from detention camps.
China has repeatedly described such claims of forced labor as “baseless,” arguing it is fighting separatism and religious extremism among the minority group.
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