'Compelling evidence' of Chinese forced labour links with UK companies

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·2 min read
A shopper walks pass advertising billboards at Canary Wharf DLR station in central London. Photo: James Akena/Reuters
A shopper walks pass advertising billboards at Canary Wharf DLR station in central London. Photo: James Akena/Reuters

The government is being called on to toughen anti-modern slavery requirements for businesses and develop new measures compelling companies to ensure forced labour plays no part in their supply chains.

This follows "compelling evidence" of Chinese slave labour links to major brands.

The calls come in a Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee report published on Wednesday, amid mounting evidence of forced labour and wider human rights abuses affecting Uyghur and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

The Uyghur forced labour in Xinjiang and UK value chains report notes compelling evidence that many major companies in the fashion, retail, media and technology sectors with large footprints in the UK are complicit in the forced labour of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Given that evidence of serious human rights abuses in Xinjiang has been widely reported over many years, the committee says it is appalled that companies still cannot guarantee that their supply chains are free from forced labour.

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The report recommends the government accelerates proposals to amend and strengthen the Modern Slavery Act 2015, to enhance the transparency and accessibility of modern slavery statements and develop options for civil penalties in the event of non-compliance.

It also calls on the Department for BEIS to develop a policy framework for creating a whitelist and blacklist of companies which do and do not meet their obligations to uphold human rights throughout their supply chains.

For this inquiry, the BEIS Committee heard from a variety of witnesses including Boohoo (BOO.L), H&M (HM-B.ST), TikTok, The North Face, and Nike (NKE).

Nusrat Ghani, Conservative MP for Wealden and lead BEIS Committee member for the Forced labour in UK value chains inquiry, said: “It is deeply concerning that companies selling to millions of British customers cannot guarantee that their supply chains are free from forced labour.

"Modern slavery legislation and BEIS Department policy are not fit for purpose in tackling this grave situation."

“Amid mounting evidence of abuses, it is deeply disappointing that the government appears to lack the urgency and commitment to take the tough action which is both necessary and overdue.

"Amid compelling evidence of abuses, there has been a sorry absence of significant new government measures to prohibit UK businesses from profiting from the forced labour of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and other parts of China.”

The report includes a series of recommendations to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and strengthen the UK sanctions regime. The report also calls on the BEIS Department to commit to full transparency in terms of official development assistance channelled to China.

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