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LONDON — British companies who fail to report any forced labor in their supply chains will face stricter fines under plans aimed at sending “a clear message” to China over the treatment of Uighur people in Xinjiang.
The U.K.’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, on Tuesday vowed “to send a clear message” to Beijing amid mounting international scrutiny of the China’s treatment of the largely Muslim community in the region, which represents a major hub for global supply chains and accounts for a large share of the world’s cotton supply.
China has been accused of forced labor abuses in Xinjiang, with Raab saying it had overseen “the extra-judicial detention of over a million Uighurs and other minorities in political re-education camps.”
Speaking in the House of Commons Tuesday, the foreign secretary announced four new measures from the U.K. government — including a bolstering of its existing modern slavery act legislation.
The legislation was designed to try and ensure that businesses could not profit from exploitative labour. Some critics have suggested that it has less severe penalties for firms than similar regimes in other countries, such as France.
In a toughening of rules there will be now be fines for firms that do not comply with that law’s transparency obligations and an urgent review of export controls on goods that could, directly or indirectly, contribute to human rights violations in Xinjiang.
Bringing public sector procurement under the same rules as private business will now mean suppliers are excluded if there is sufficient evidence of human rights violations in supply chains. Compliance will be mandatory for central government, non-departmental bodies and executive agencies, the government said.
But Lisa Nandy, Shadow Foreign Secretary for the opposition Labour Party, said the move fell short. She cited media reports suggesting a suite of sanctions against officials responsible for the detention and forced labor of Uighur people had been coming forthcoming.
Raab said Canada, France, Germany and New Zealand are also considering their stance on the issue.
“The evidence of the scale and severity of the human rights violations being perpetrated in Xinjiang against the Uyghur Muslims is now far reaching,” he said.
“This package will help make sure that no British organisations, government or private sector, deliberately or inadvertently, profit from or contribute to the human rights violations against the Uyghurs or other minorities in Xinjiang.”
Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chair of the commons foreign affairs committee, said “dirty goods” were a problem but so was “dirty money.” And he urged the government to take action on any links to Chinese investment that could undermine freedom of speech in universities.