Sir Iain Duncan Smith tables an Urgent Question on the UK Government’s response to the overwhelming evidence of the Chinese Government’s use of Uyghur slave labour in Xinjiang province. He calls on the Government to implement Magnitsky sanctions, hold a cross-departmental review of strategic dependency on China and support the Genocide amendment put forward in the House of Lords.
Uyghur Slave Labour: Xinjiang
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on what the Government are doing to deal with the overwhelming evidence of the Chinese Government’s use of Uyghur slave labour in Xinjiang province.
Evidence of forced Uyghur labour within Xinjiang and in other parts of China is credible; it is growing and it is deeply troubling to the UK Government. Yesterday’s media reporting, based in part on Chinese Government documents, suggests that forced labour is occurring on a significant scale. The reports raise particular concerns regarding the cotton industry, with serious implications for international and UK supply chains. We have consistently made clear our view that all businesses involved in investing in Xinjiang or with parts of their supply chains in Xinjiang should conduct appropriate due diligence to satisfy themselves that their activities do not support, or risk being seen to support, any human rights violations or abuses.
In our national action plan, implementing the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, we set out our expectation that UK businesses should respect human rights across their operations and their international supply relationships. While there is an important role for Government, businesses have a clear responsibility to ensure that their supply chains are free from forced labour. We have issued clear guidance and held regular meetings with businesses and industry stakeholders to underline our concerns and the importance of thorough due diligence. We have also financed projects to build the evidence base and increase awareness of the risks. This includes the high-profile report “Uyghurs for sale”, which has led several companies to take action in respect of their supply chains.
I have updated the House on a number of occasions on the UK’s international leadership and extensive diplomatic activity to hold China to account. Most recently, alongside Germany, we brought together a total of 39 countries in a joint statement at the UN General Assembly Third Committee in October. That sent a powerful message to China on the breadth of international concern, including on the issue of forced labour. In September, we devoted our entire national statement at the UN Human Rights Council to China, again raising forced labour.
In summary, the UK has taken the lead internationally. We have shone a light on the evidence of what is going on, to raise awareness and urge action, and we have provided clear guidance to business. However, the Government acknowledge that, in light of the gross human rights abuses being committed, there is more to be done. That is why, in September, the Home Secretary announced plans to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and why the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is co-ordinating extensive work right across Government to address this deeply concerning issue.
I will conclude by reassuring the House that we recognise and share the depth of cross-party concern on the human rights situation in Xinjiang. We have made that concern abundantly clear to the Chinese Government, and we expect China to live up to its responsibilities under international law and to the commitments it has made as a leading member of the international community. Continuing to stand up for those whose human rights are oppressed remains a top priority for this Government.
Let me make it clear that this question is not about being anti-Chinese—far from it. It is about the abuses of the dictatorial Chinese Communist Government and its ruling elite. On Monday, Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China adviser Adrian Zenz published research taken from internal Chinese Government files, which showed that in 2018 the prefectures of Aksu and Hotan sent 210,000 workers via coercive labour transfer to forcibly pick cotton for a Chinese paramilitary organisation, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. That is, in effect, slave labour. Furthermore, Mr Zenz and IPAC have also shown that the Chinese Government forced Uyghur women into sterilisation. As a result, the Uyghur population in those regions fell by as much as 84% between 2015 and 2018. That is action verging, I believe, on genocide.
Meanwhile, the peaceful proponents of democracy in Hong Kong are locked up and forced to flee their homes; Christians and Falun Gong have suffered organ harvesting, while half a million Tibetans have been forced into labour camps. The Chinese Communist party is oppressive at home and bullying abroad—just look at the its actions in bullying Australia for calling for an independent inquiry into the origins of covid, and the revelations over the weekend that supposedly secure institutions such as even the Foreign Office have been penetrated not only by CCP members, but by members of the fanatical United Front. The security issues are paramount.
I ask my hon. Friend when he will announce that those responsible for all these evils will be sanctioned under the Magnitsky regimes. We have been going on and on about that, without answer. Will he commit to reviewing all our dependency on China and to putting that on a secure basis? May I ask what he is doing now about the penetration by those United Front entryists into the embassy and other secure institutions in the United Kingdom? Will his Department support the forthcoming genocide amendment that is now in the other place?
I simply say to my hon. Friend that we must condemn—not just criticise, but condemn—the actions being taken by this abusive Government. We have learned in the past that appeasement does not work. That is why we must take this head-on, right now, before it becomes too big to manage.
I thank my right hon. Friend both for securing this urgent question and for the work he does with colleagues cross-party on this important issue. He raised the question of members of the CCP and United Front getting access to some of our institutions. First and foremost, we protect our most sensitive information by ensuring that local staff do not have access to it, regardless of whether they hold any party affiliation, and we undertake robust vetting of staff. We value the work of local staff immensely and they help to promote UK prosperity, but, as he knows, there are 91 million members of the Chinese Communist party; it is a mass-membership organisation at the heart of Chinese government, business, academia and social life.
My right hon. Friend also raised the question of sanctions. Of course, that is an issue that we have discussed on a regular basis since announcing our regime in July. We are constantly and carefully considering further designations under that regime, and we will keep all potential listings under review.
My right hon. Friend also asked about the amendment to the Trade Bill in the other place. Our commitment to upholding human rights and opposing genocide in all its forms is unequivocal. The Trade Bill applies only to trade agreements that have already been signed with the EU that we are rolling over as an independent trading nation. None of the agreements that we have signed, which have been scrutinised by Parliament, have eroded any domestic standards in relation to human rights or equalities.