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12 Jan 2021

UK: Government announces measures to address risk of UK business complicity in human rights violations against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang

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In March 2020, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published a report Uyghurs for sale: ‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang, which identified companies benefiting from the labour exploitation of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Since then, evidence of widespread human rights violations, extra-judicial, and forced labour has grown. These human rights violations taint the supply chains of global companies, including UK-based organisations.

In January 2021, the UK Foreign Secretary announced a package of measures to help ensure that UK-based organisations are not complicit in or profiting from these human rights violations. These measures include a review of exports to Xinjiang, the introduction of financial penalties for businesses that do not comply with the UK Modern Slavery Act, and support for UK public bodies to exclude business complicity in human rights violations from their supply chains.

According to a press release from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office “the measures are designed to send a clear signal to China that these violations are unacceptable.” The full statement is linked below.

In March 2021, a UK parliamentary select committee recommended that the UK business department take steps to strengthen regulation of businesses with supply chain links to Xinjiang, noting that "companies asserted that they have robust procedures for prohibiting human rights abuses while failing to undertake the necessary and basic due diligence procedures to know for certain that their supply chains are not implicated in slave labour or the abuse of minorities in China".

The UK government's response, in June 2021, rejected many of the select committee's recommendations. Nusrat Ghani MP said: "Given the horrifying evidence of abuses, it beggars belief the Government is dragging its feet in bringing forward the tough action needed to help to tackle the exploitation of forced labour in Xinjiang."