Firms could face fines or be barred from government procurements if they fail to comply with transparency obligations in the Modern Slavery Act (MSA), the UK foreign minister Dominic Raab has announced.
In a statement to the House of Commons Raab outlined measures that would strengthen the MSA while also addressing reports of human rights violations in the Xinjiang region of China.
Around one million Uighur Muslims are believed to have been detained at internment camps in the region, though China claims they are vocational training centres.
Raab told MPs that the UK had a “moral duty to respond” to reports that included “internment camps, arbitrary detention, political re-education, forced labour, torture and forced sterilisation”.
He said: “Xinjiang’s position in the international supply chain network means that there is a real risk of businesses and public bodies around the world – whether it’s inadvertently or otherwise – sourcing from suppliers which are complicit in the use of forced labour.
“Here in the UK, we must take action, to make sure that UK businesses are not part of the supply chains that lead to the gates of the internment camps in Xinjiang. And to make sure that the products of the human rights violations that take place in those camps don’t end up on the shelves of supermarkets that we shop in here at home, week in week out.”
Raab outlined four measures the government would take to ensure goods made with forced labour of the Xinjiang region, which supplies around a fifth of global cotton, did not enter UK supply chains:
1. Raab said the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and Department for International Trade issued new “robust and detailed guidance” to UK businesses on the specific risks faced by companies with links to Xinjiang, underlining the challenges of conducting effective due diligence there.
“A minister-led campaign of business engagement will reinforce the need for UK businesses to take concerted action to address that particular and specific risk,” he said.
2. The Home Office will introduce fines for businesses that do not comply with transparency obligations, as part of efforts to strengthen the MSA, Raab announced.
“The home secretary will introduce the necessary legislation, setting out the level of those fines, as soon as parliamentary time allows,” he said.
He added the fines would “need to be struck at the level at which they can deter those who willingly flout the transparency requirements”.
3. In September, the government announced the MSA transparency requirements for private firms would be extended to the public sector.
Raab announced that FCDO and Cabinet Office would work together to provide guidance and support to UK government bodies to “exclude suppliers, where there is sufficient evidence of human rights violations in any of their supply chains”.
“Let me say that we in the United Kingdom – I think rightly – take pride in the overwhelming majority of British businesses that do business, do so with great integrity and professionalism right around the world… It is precisely because of that, that any company profiting from forced labour will be barred from government procurement in this country.”
4. The government will also conduct an urgent review of export controls that apply specifically to the situation in Xinjiang.
Raab said the measures would “make sure that we are doing everything that we can to prevent the export of any goods that could directly or indirectly contribute to human rights violations in that region”.
“This package put together will help make sure that no British organisations, government or private sector, deliberately or inadvertently, are profiting from or contributing to human rights violations against the Uighurs or other minorities in Xinjiang.”
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