Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said firms linked to the “harrowing” forced labour of China’s persecuted Uyghur Muslims will be hit with huge fines, as Jewish groups said more needed to be done.
Having suffered four years of mass internment – something China calls “re-education” – it was recently revealed that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs detained in Xinjiang province are being used as slave labour, mainly to pick cotton.
Raab said China’s persecution included “internment camps, arbitrary detention, political re-education, forced labour, torture, and forced sterilisation, all on an industrial scale”, echoing details aired in Jewish News over recent months.
“It is truly horrific,” he said, “barbarism we had hoped lost to another era, being practiced today in one of the leading members of the international community.”
From now on, he said, firms sourcing products from China must check their origin or risk heavy fines under the Modern Slavery Act, and lucrative Government contracts will only go to firms that can show their supply chains have no Xinjiang links.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy accused Raab of pulling his punches, however. “The government has trailed long-awaited sanctions in the media on officials responsible for appalling human rights abuses in Xinjiang. We have waited months. Who has overruled him this time?”
The Board of Deputies said it was holding an emergency meeting for MPs on the plight of the Uyghurs ahead of an important vote which will take place in the House of Commons in the coming days.
In December, the House of Lords voted to add an amendment to a trade Bill. This amendment would revoke or prevent bilateral trade deals between the UK and any country which the High Court determines is carrying out a genocide.
That Bill will return to the House of Commons soon and MPs will get to vote on it. The Board said the amendment – which is directly aimed at the treatment of the Uyghurs in China – needed to be pass for China to take it seriously.
“The horrors which are taking place in Xinjiang cannot be denied,” said Board president Marie van der Zyl. “As the Foreign Secretary said this afternoon, the evidence of the scale and severity of the human right violations against Uyghur Muslims is now far reaching and paints a harrowing picture.
“We are not willing to stand aside and do nothing as millions are herded into concentration camps, stigmatised for their ethnicity and religion, made to do forced labour, as women are forcibly sterilised and children removed from their parents.
“We have seen this before. We know exactly where it can lead. And we urge the UK Government to listen to the many Conservative MPs who support this amendment.
“It is not too late to act. Together we can make the Chinese Government very much aware that should they continue in this way, there will be international consequences.”
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