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Government should get tough on use of forced labour in Xinjiang

17 March 2021

Amid mounting evidence of forced labour and wider human rights abuses affecting Uyghur and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, the Government should toughen anti-modern slavery requirements for businesses and develop new measures compelling companies to ensure forced labour plays no part in their supply chains, says the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee in a report published today.

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.

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.

The report recommends the Department for BEIS develops 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.

Nusrat Ghani MP (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. The Government must act to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act, introduce a tougher business policy framework, and examine the use of targeted sanctions to ensure every effort is made to stamp out profiteering from these abuses.

“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.”

For this inquiry, the BEIS Committee heard from a variety of witnesses including Boohoo, H&M, TikTok, The North Face, and Nike.

The report expresses concern about the potential flow of information between TikTok UK, its parent company ByteDance Ltd and other subsidiary companies (such as ByteDance (HK) Ltd), which could be subject to China's National Intelligence Law. The BEIS Committee invites TikTok to publish independently verified governance and data flow arrangements to confirm full legal separation between TikTok UK and other ByteDance Ltd group companies.

The report finds it “clearly unacceptable” that Boohoo was found to have only minimal data about the different tiers in their supply chain, resulting in labour abuses in the UK. However, the report welcomes Sir Brian Leveson’s review at Boohoo and encourages other companies to undertake independent inquiries into their due diligence policies.

The report notes that the Committee is “deeply disappointed” that The Walt Disney Company declined the invitation to give oral evidence, and to engage meaningfully with the Committee’s inquiry, and finds that Disney still has many questions to answer relating to its conduct in Xinjiang, principally in relation to the production of Mulan in the region.

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.

Further information

Image: CCO