Skip to main content

Uyghur Slave Labour: Xinjiang

Volume 686: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2020

(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.

Yesterday, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis described the treatment of the Uyghur people as an “unfathomable mass atrocity”. He added:

“Let no person say that the responsibility lies with others.”

The shocking BBC revelations must be the trigger for action, following accounts of forced sterilisations, beatings and re-education camps, which undeniably share features of genocide.

Yesterday, it became clear that Britain is deeply involved in this story. We are tied to the Uyghur people through our global supply chains, importing cotton born of forced labour into our markets and, in doing so, unwittingly helping to sustain these appalling mass atrocities. I want to hear about action today. The Government must introduce Magnitsky sanctions and work with our allies to maximise their effect. Has the Minister discussed targeted sanctions with partners in North America, Europe and Australia?

In October, the Foreign Secretary said he needed to “gather the evidence”, but by December no Xinjiang officials were included in the updated Magnitsky list. Without further evidence, we will not make progress, so how are the Government going to work with allies to pressure China to allow the UN access to Xinjiang? Has the Minister considered the use of the 1984 convention against torture, a potential international legal process that does not present the same jurisdictional challenges facing the International Criminal Court or face the same evidence bar?

When the BBC asked British companies to confirm that cotton from Xinjiang was not used in their supply chains, only four were able to do so. If that does not fire our sense of urgency, what on earth will? The review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 concluded that for many companies it was simply a “tick-box exercise”, with 40% not complying at all. It recommended enforcement and stronger processes. What are the Government waiting for?

Can the Minister confirm today that no public body, whether it is the NHS, the armed forces or his own Department, uses cotton from Xinjiang? If he cannot, will he tell us what he is going to do to ensure that the Modern Slavery Act covers public bodies and that not a penny of public money is spent on allowing the mass persecution of the Uyghur to continue?

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. I share the Chief Rabbi’s serious concerns about the gross violations of human rights that are being perpetrated against Uyghur Muslims—and other minorities, it is fair to say—in Xinjiang.

The hon. Lady is right to mention the report. We have repeatedly urged businesses involved in investing in Xinjiang or with parts of their supply chains in the region to ensure that they conduct the appropriate due diligence—to ensure that those activities do not support human rights violations or abuses. We have reinforced that message through engagement with businesses, industry groups and other stakeholders. Of course we work internationally in our co-operation on these issues; we were able to pull together 39 countries at the UN to support our statement.

On the Modern Slavery Act, incidentally, the UK is the first country in the world to require businesses to report on how they are tackling modern slavery in their operations. The Home Office has announced a series of measures to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act, including extending transparency obligations to certain public bodies, which the hon. Lady mentioned, and those measures will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows. I can also tell her that the FCDO is co-ordinating extensive further work across Government to address this deeply concerning issue, which we acknowledge.

First, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). This report by Adrian Zenz is extremely powerful and makes clear and sobering reading. I am sure the Minister will have followed the Foreign Affairs Committee hearing yesterday, where we heard from Uyghur activists—one in Europe and one in the United States—as well as human rights lawyers and a UN expert. They all made clear their view on the human rights violations that we are witnessing today.

The Minister has heard the call for Magnitsky sanctions to be urgently applied and not merely promised, as we have sadly heard too much in the House. Will he commit to ensure that the resources of the Foreign Office at home and abroad will help companies to ensure that they track slave products and slave labour through their supply chains and that Her Majesty’s Government will help them to inspect factories and supply routes around the world?

My hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee is right. That is why we will be taking measures to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act. As I mentioned, the FCDO is co-ordinating further extensive work. We are working right across Departments to ensure that we have the correct response. That involves supporting businesses, which do an awful lot of trade in that part of the world, and we have been making it absolutely clear that they need to ensure that their supply chains are free of forced labour, otherwise there will very likely be consequences. He knows that sanctions are being constantly and carefully considered. They also need to be developed responsibly and on the basis of evidence. It is not appropriate to speculate on any individuals who may or may not be sanctioned in the future.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on bringing this important issue to the House. I am pleased to follow three very strong contributions that I agree with. There is common ground here and a common effort, so I do not propose to cover that ground again. I will boil it down to two concrete questions for the Minister.

The Minister is right to say that companies have a primary responsibility for their own due diligence, to ensure that they are not profiting from slave labour, but there has been a lot of carrot, and it is time for some stick. The BBC has shown up the Government’s inaction in auditing UK companies’ involvement in and potential profiting from slavery, so I repeat my call for a Government audit of UK companies involved in this. I was struck by his comments to the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) about the FCDO’s work across Departments to have parallel efforts on Government procurement. Could we have a statement to the House specifically on those efforts in early course?

We will be able to update the House on that cross-Government work in due course—likely in the new year. The hon. Gentleman says that we are behind the curve. I would politely mention that the UK being the first country to require businesses to report how they identify and address modern slavery should be to this Government’s credit. The Home Office made it clear in September that we intend to strengthen those laws. He will have to wait a little bit longer in terms of those actions being brought to the House.

I want to add my weight to the Chief Rabbi’s intervention, which exposes the abuse of the Uyghur. The Chief Rabbi also said that there must be an

“urgent, independent and unfettered investigation into what is happening.”

Can the Minister comment on that? As crimes against humanity by the Chinese Government grow, has the Chinese ambassador been summoned to explain what is happening?

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, on which I sit, is conducting an inquiry into UK business supply chain links to Xinjiang. We are now implicated in this, and we have to take action, not speak powerfully on this issue. Finally, may I encourage the Minister to reach out to the incoming Biden Administration, to learn more about the United States Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and see how we can collaborate to prevent the abuse of Uyghur men, the exploitation of Uyghur women and the destruction of the lives of Uyghur children?

My hon. Friend is right to raise a number of points. We are seriously concerned about a number of gross violations of human rights that are being perpetrated against Uyghur men and women and other minorities in Xinjiang. The Chief Rabbi is spot on, and we share his concerns about these violations that are being perpetrated. As I said, we are working internationally and co-operating with our partners on this issue. I am hopeful that my hon. Friend will draw some comfort in the new year from the new measures that we bring forward.

As people shop for their Christmas presents, we are all grateful to be able to buy products from our fifth largest trading partner, China, but I am sure that many people would be appalled to know that by shopping for some brands, they are inadvertently spending their money on such abhorrent practices as slave labour. To help consumers make wise choices now, will the Government create a publicly available watchlist of companies of concern? Will the Minister consider a total ban on any products that are linked in any way to human rights abuses?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for the way that she engages with FCDO. Most parties are on the same page in this situation, and our officials meet businesses and industry stakeholders regularly to make them aware of the scale of forced labour issues. I ask her to have a bit of patience into the new year, when we will bring to the House the next stage of support and action via the Modern Slavery Act 2015. We will also be able to talk a little more about cross-Government work.

I forgot to answer one point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), about the Chinese ambassador. He has been summoned to the Foreign Office to meet the permanent under-secretary, and following the publication of the report in the last couple of days, yesterday we made our views known strongly to the embassy.

The principle of non-intervention in another country’s internal affairs is generally a good one, but surely it is applicable only when people are able to choose the Government whom they live under, and where their rights and freedoms are respected. Does my hon. Friend agree that with respect to totalitarian states there is a duty on all strong and free nations to speak out for the weak and forgotten, even when politically uncomfortable or inconvenient?

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. We are not dealing with a country with a normal party system. We have long worked with international partners on this issue, and we led the first joint international statements at the third committee of the General Assembly last year, as well as in June at the UN Human Right Council. As I said, to get 39 countries to join our statement at the third committee about the situation in Xinjiang was no mean feat but, as ever on these issues, my right hon. Friend is spot on.

This House is united in its joint calls for our Government to act and respond robustly. I first raised the treatment of the Uyghurs in this House in 2015, yet here we are five years later and the situation remains every bit as desperate. I know it is not the personal responsibility of the Minister, but I believe we have a moral obligation to use whatever channels are available to ensure that all is done to penalise China. We must apply as much pressure as we can to help those who are being persecuted only because of their religion and their faith.

The hon. Gentleman is a long-term champion of freedom of religion and belief. We are deeply concerned about the persecution of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners, and I know he cares deeply about that. We are concerned about the actions that are going on, and as the UK we are proud that we stand up and speak out when we see such violations occur. I know the hon. Gentleman will continue to bring such cases to the House, and if he would like us to follow up any specific cases, we are more than happy to do so.

I commend the Government for the approach they have taken thus far and for their intention to ensure that the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is made more robust to tackle this issue. With that in mind, can I push for an extension to the Magnitsky Act to be placed on those Chinese individuals we are able to identify? Can I also ask whether the Government might recognise the independent Uyghur tribunal set up by Sir Geoffrey Nice, which is due to report next year?

We are liaising. We are very much aware of the work my hon. Friend refers to, and our officials and Ministers are having discussions in that regard. He mentions sanctions. As he knows, we are constantly and carefully considering further designations, and we will keep all potential listings under review.

May I remind the Minister, who I have a lot of time for, that we have all-party support on this issue? China is really waging a war against democracy and human rights —not just in Hong Kong and China but worldwide. Is it not about time that we sent President Xi Jinping a strong message that we will not continue to allow investment in our country or to allow wealthy members of the politburo to come to the classic luxury shops in this country—when they are open? Can we not send a stronger message now that we will not put up with this any longer and that our hearts and minds are with the poor persecuted people working as slave labourers?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Of course, trade with China is important to the UK. China is the UK’s fourth largest trading partner, and total bilateral trade was worth over £76 billion in the four quarters to the end of quarter 2 2020. However, as we continue to strive for that positive relationship, we will not sacrifice our values or our security. We are absolutely clear-sighted about challenges, and as we continue to engage we will always protect our national interest, speak up and hold China to its international commitments and promises.

In the 19th century, the House of Commons established its legacy on behalf of the enslaved and persecuted people in the world with the slavery and emancipation Acts. Is the Minister aware, after these questions, that whatever action he takes, the House of Commons will give him full support? The Chinese Government do not care a damn about mere words; only action will persuade them. Will he therefore summon the UK fashion industry to tell it that, unless it can prove that cotton is not picked with slave labour, it will stop importing from China? Will he also pursue the Magnitsky sanctions point, and will he, after Brexit, pursue with our allies the point on trade sanctions?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue, as he has on other occasions. Of course we will continue to call out China when it abuses its international obligations. We have announced new measures that will strengthen the Modern Slavery Act. As soon as an opportunity arises, we will bring those to the House. I would ask my right hon. Friend to be a little patient, into the new year, on the other measures we hope to bring forward following our consultations across Government.

The abhorrent persecution of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang by the Chinese Government must receive sustained international condemnation. The UK Government must be a key player in that and must not sit back and let the abuses continue. What steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to support the appointment of a UN special rapporteur for the investigation of forced labour and ethnic persecution in Xinjiang?

We have been leading on this issue internationally, and I referred to the 38 other countries that joined us at the UN in one of the many statements that we have made on this issue. However, any action we take at the UN has to have an opportunity of succeeding, and there is no point bringing forward measures that will potentially give the intended target a propaganda coup.

Like many right hon. and hon. Members across the House, I have been shocked, saddened and appalled by the plight of the Uyghurs in China. This was reinforced yesterday by the words of the Chief Rabbi. I would like to inquire what practical steps the Minister and the Foreign Secretary are taking to hold China to account for its disturbing and abhorrent actions.

My hon. Friend is right to raise this again. We welcome the Chief Rabbi’s intervention, and we share his serious concerns about the violations that are being perpetrated against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are playing a leading role internationally in holding China to account for these violations. We have led or co-ordinated multiple joint statements on this issue. This groundswell of international concern does send a powerful message, and I can assure him that it is increasing the pressure on the Chinese authorities to change course.

As future post-Brexit trade deals are negotiated, can the Minister confirm that the UK will not back down on its moral and ethical principles to secure any economic gains and that China agreeing to put an end to violations of its citizens’ human rights is an unmoveable precondition to the UK signing such a deal?

The hon. Lady raises a really important point. We have a high level of ambition for our trade and investment partnership with China. We want to work with China to increase trade and investment flows, to make sure that our companies can get market access and to set a mutual ambition for a future relationship, but as we strive for that positive future relationship, we will not sacrifice either our values or our security.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I thank the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) for securing this urgent question. The treatment of the Uyghurs is atrocious. Will the Minister confirm that the imposition of measures intended to prevent births within an ethnic or religious group is expressly forbidden under the terms of article II(d) of the UN convention on genocide, and will he seriously consider what international actions can be taken beyond joint statements to respond to the human rights abuses being committed in Xinjiang?

The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to this. We debated that very issue some months ago in the Chamber. Of course, we abhor any of those practices. He refers to the term “genocide”. That very much has a specific definition in international law. It is our long-standing policy that any judgment as to whether crimes against humanity or genocide have occurred is absolutely a matter for judicial decision.

The ever-increasing body of evidence of industrialised atrocities by the Chinese Communist party brings into stark focus my calls for the creation of an atrocity prevention unit at the FCDO. Does my hon. Friend agree that, internationally, we must ensure that the cost to the CCP’s reputation and economy is so great that it finally ceases the appalling genocide being committed against the Uyghur people, and what steps is he taking to magnify those costs to the greatest extent possible?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for her continued work in this area. I agree that it is absolutely vital that China understands the breadth of international concern about the situation in Xinjiang. She knows that we have taken the lead internationally on this issue. We have gone from 28 countries supporting a joint statement in June to 39 countries supporting a statement at the UN in October. This does send a powerful message to China, and if international businesses continue to take the action we are urging to ensure their supply chains are free of forced labour—I note that a number of prominent UK businesses have already done so—that will also send an important message to China.

Why has it taken the FCDO so long to apply the Magnitsky sanctions against Chinese Government officials responsible for grave human rights abuses against the Uyghur people—we have heard from other Members what has happened in Tibet and what is happening in Hong Kong—given the speed in which the Minister has said that they added sanctions to Belarussian officials previously?

The hon. Gentleman will know, because he has heard it multiple times at this Dispatch Box, that we are constantly and carefully considering further designations under the sanctions regime, but they have to be developed with absolute evidence in a responsible way. It is not right to speculate or rush into these measures. There is a pretty good chance of seeing asset flight if that is the case, but I can assure him that we are very carefully considering any further designations.

In the 21st century, businesses put a great premium on showing that they are socially responsible, yet it is impossible to be one if you use products that are the result of forced labour, so does my hon. Friend agree that our businesses need to establish immediately whether they are using anything that is a product of forced labour, and if they are, to cease doing so immediately?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this. I agree that there is a role for Government, but businesses have a vital role to play in ensuring that their supply chains are free of forced labour. We repeatedly urge businesses involved in investing in Xinjiang or with parts of their supply chain in the region to do so and to conduct that due diligence. We are going to make enhancements to the Modern Slavery Act. We have reinforced this message through very close engagement with businesses, industry groups and other stakeholders.

Well done, Chief Rabbi, for being one of the most authentic voices to speak out in support of the Uyghur people. Well done, Ministers, too, for taking a lead in October at the United Nations. Will the Minister persuade not only his colleagues, but the Governments that he persuaded in October to support the Uyghur people, to look at national public procurement supply chains to ensure that, while it is difficult to persuade the fashion industry to eschew dubiously sourced cotton, national Governments are doing everything in their power to ensure that products in their supply chains—I am thinking particularly of uniforms—have nothing to do with cotton sourced from countries that may be using forced labour?

My right hon. Friend is right. As I said, we are working cross-Government and we are working intensively with our international partners. It is absolutely the case that we should be bringing pressure to bear on those companies that are operating in the region. This is an area on which we will have a bit more to say in the new year, but I give him my assurance that we are working very co-operatively with our international partners on these issues, as well as across Government.

Some of the comments that the Minister has made remind me of his predecessor’s responses to the situation in Myanmar against Rohingya Muslims. It shows that the failure of our Government to take a strong international leadership role to secure justice sends a dangerous message to repressive Governments around the world that ethnic cleansing and genocide against Muslims and other minorities is an acceptable policy tool. That is the message that he is sending, so it is time that our Government stop making excuses. I appreciate what he is doing, but he needs to look at the record of action and inaction in the past and learn from that. That is why I call on him once again to heed the advice of Members across the House and start to apply sanctions—Magnitsky sanctions —and to seek a UN investigation into what is happening, as well as supporting the International Court of Justice case on genocide prevention led by the Gambia in relation to the Rohingya Muslims, because it is just not acceptable for our Government to continue to make excuses.

We are not making excuses. I have a lot of time for the hon. Lady and we have spoken at great length on these issues, both inside and outside the Chamber. We are taking a lead; if that was not the case, a rising number of countries would not be supporting our statements at the UN. We are of course looking very closely at the case in Myanmar—we have discussed it face-to-face on a number of occasions and will continue to do.

I understand that these things are difficult, but I encourage the Minister to persuade our allies that, whatever the difficulties and costs of tackling this and other problems now, they will only go up. The sooner we deal with these issues, the easier they will be to tackle. On this particular issue, what steps can we take to ensure—not just through guidance—that UK companies are not benefiting from slave labour?

Like many right hon. and hon. Members, my hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. We constantly urge businesses involved in investing in this part of the world to ensure that their supply chains are free of forced labour and to satisfy themselves that their activities do not support, or give the impression that they support, forced labour. We constantly talk to industry groups, as well as directly to businesses. It is worth pointing out that we have financed projects to increase awareness of how international supply chains may contribute to human rights violations or abuses in Xinjiang.

Concentration camps, forced labour, medical sterilisations —disturbingly, we have seen all this before. Until garment retailers and Xinjiang officials act, will the Minister legislate to require UK garment retailers to show on labelling if cotton is sourced from forced Uyghur labour in Xinjiang, so that consumers can decide for themselves which brands they wish to support?

The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. We constantly raise serious concerns about the gross violations of human rights to which she refers. As I have said, we raised the deeply concerning latest new evidence directly with the Chinese embassy yesterday. I urge her to have a little patience in terms of the new measures on supply chains that the Government are going to bring forward.

It was disappointing to read this week that the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court had declined to investigate China in respect of the persecution of Uyghur Muslims on the basis that the court did not have jurisdiction to do so, and we know that the UK tribunal led by Geoffrey Nice has no legal teeth of its own, so will my hon. Friend consider working with our many international partners to seek a special resolution at the UN and perhaps even establish a specialist tribunal, so that in time those responsible for these crimes can be brought to justice?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. A whole range of options is available to us that involve working with the UN. As I mentioned in a previous answer, whatever steps we take have to have a realistic chance of being successful in that particular forum. We will continue to work with our international partners, as she suggests; working alongside our international partners is the best approach in this regard.

We have rightly heard from both sides of the House condemnation of the atrocious, barbaric and, quite frankly, harrowing treatment of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. Members from all parties who have been working on the National Security and Investment Bill over the past month heard evidence from none another than Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, who sketched out a very complex picture that clearly showed that for far too long successive Governments have placed economic interests, including with China, far ahead of our human rights obligations. Will the Minister consider that and say whether he will look again at our relationship with China and not prioritise economic interests ahead of either national security or human rights?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. Obviously trade with China is important to us. As I said earlier, it is the fourth largest trading partner. It is important to help UK firms to overcome the economic challenges of covid and ensure our long-term prosperity, but I can guarantee the hon. Gentleman that we will not sacrifice either our values or our security in that regard.

Clearly the footage shown on the BBC earlier this week showed factories located right next door to prison camps in Xinjiang. That is very disturbing and suggests very strongly that the people working in those factories are in the prison camps, and are not doing so willingly. It is also clear that the conditions under which people are living are inhumane. When he sees the Chinese ambassador, will my hon. Friend urge him to accept the need for an independent investigation into the treatment and detention of the Uyghur people, so that we can get to the bottom of this and ensure proper, humane conditions, and make sure that people are paid for the work they do and that they do so voluntarily?

We do make this absolutely clear; in fact, the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that the UN Human Rights Commissioner or another independent fact-finding body must be given unfettered access to Xinjiang to check the facts to which my hon. Friend refers. We call for that repeatedly in joint statements at UN bodies and we bring this up regularly with the Chinese ambassador to the UK, but I reiterate that it is vital that China allows such access without delay.

What conversations has the Minister had with his counterpart in China about the treatment of the Uyghur people, and what conversations has he had with counterparts elsewhere to co-ordinate an international response to the human rights abuses being committed against the Uyghur in Xinjiang?

The hon. Lady asks a very good question. We regularly have conversations with our international partners, as exemplified by the 39 countries that joined us at the UN, and the Foreign Secretary has spoken directly with his counterpart in China on this very issue.

The human rights violations in China have rightly sparked significant concern in my constituency, not least among the substantial Muslim population in Kensington. Will my hon. Friend commit to me that we will keep up the international pressure, in particular with the incoming US Administration?

Of course, it is absolutely key that we keep up the international pressure, working with our international partners, not least the United States and the incoming Administration. We are looking forward to working with the new Administration on all our shared interests, and the issue of Xinjiang and the Uyghur population will be high on our agenda.

I commend the work of the BBC for shining a bright light on these practices. It is a body that often gets a lot of bad press in this Chamber, but it has done a terrific job. Given that 20% of global cotton comes from the area—84% of Chinese cotton that goes into production—it is difficult for businesses to trace the source in their supply chains. What powers do the Government have under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and how are they exercising them? Why have the Government been quick to move on Belarus with Magnitsky sanctions, but slow on China?

On the final point, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that, as I have said numerous times at this Dispatch Box, we are carefully considering a range of designations under our global human rights regime. We have to do that in a responsible way, based on accurate evidence, and all potential listings in that regard are under review.

In terms of supply chains, we are repeatedly urging businesses involved in investing in Xinjiang, or with parts of their supply chains in that region, to ensure that they conduct the appropriate due diligence to ensure that none of their products, or the supply chains for them, have been involved in forced labour. I politely ask the hon. Gentleman, as I have other hon. Members, to wait until the new year, when we will be able to conclude our cross-Government work and come to the House to put forward some measures that hopefully he will be able to support.

There is no excuse in the 21st century for slavery to still exist, so will my hon. Friend agree that businesses should hear loud and clear today that they should never profit and see fashionable the opportunity to make money from the slavery and suffering of others? Will he please outline the steps that he is taking to build the largest possible international coalition, including business, to condemn the Chinese action?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is vital that China understands the breadth of international concern about the situation. That has been the focus of all our intensive diplomatic activity on the issue. As I said, it is reflected in the growth in the number of countries that have joined us, rising from 28 countries last year to 39 countries at the latest Human Rights Council in June.

It is indeed chilling to see those pictures, and to read about what is happening not only in the re-education camps but now in this slave labour report. We have seen a decade of this Government getting closer to China, which has been deeply concerning for many of us. Now the Government are delaying in putting new measures forward—talking about the new year, and not saying when in the new year, or exactly what they will do. We cannot wait. The time is urgent now. People’s lives are being put at risk. Could the Government be clearer on exactly what they are bringing forward and when, and how they will bring more nations on board, because 39 countries are clearly not enough to stop this human rights abuse?

The hon. Lady will have to be patient, I am afraid, in terms of the parliamentary time that would allow us to bring forward the changes to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act, for example. She talked about our very recent relationship with China. We want a positive and mature relationship with China, which is a very important member of the international community. Without China, we risk not being able to tackle global challenges, but when we have concerns we will raise them, and where we need to intervene we do.

My constituents in Stoke-on-Trent Central are deeply concerned and shocked by reports of forced labour of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. Britain’s Modern Slavery Act requires big businesses to detail their anti-slavery efforts annually; however, as my hon. Friend will know, well-meaning words fall short of action. What measures are the Government taking to ensure that UK businesses are not complicit in modern-day slavery?

My hon. Friend rightly raises the Modern Slavery Act. At the risk of repeating myself, I remind the House that we are the first country in the world to require businesses to report on how they are tackling modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. As she will know, in September the Home Office announced a series of measures to strengthen the Act, and transparency in thousands of businesses and public body supply chains. That involves extending the reporting requirement to public bodies with a budget of £36 million or more. We want more transparency and comparability by requiring organisations to publish their statement on our new reporting service. We will bring those measures forward at the first opportunity when parliamentary time allows.

That is very good to hear. I wonder whether those requirements will apply to the many organisations that have been handed covid procurement contracts by the Minister’s ministerial colleagues to lots of their different friends. We are all becoming very dependent on the use of large quantities of personal protective equipment that have been manufactured in China. What steps are the Government taking specifically to ensure integrity in those supply chains?

We have taken steps to reduce our dependence on imported PPE. Thankfully, UK manufacturers are now capable of providing 70% of all items of PPE, except gloves, that we expect to use throughout the winter. The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that, before the pandemic, just 1% of PPE was produced in the UK. The FCDO is working through our embassy in Beijing to ensure that external due diligence service providers carry out open source checks on Chinese suppliers of medical products produced during the peak of the covid epidemic. All procurement processes were in line with the UK procurement regulations during this time.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be absolutely appalled by the credible reports of forced abortions and forced sterilisation. Will he commit to taking action on this by formally and publicly condemning the population control practices of the Chinese Communist party and requesting that these cease immediately?

My hon. Friend is right to raise these abhorrent issues. We debated this in the Chamber earlier this year when a report was made available. We will continue to hold China to account under its international obligations and to take the lead globally.

China routinely breaches the international norms that we stand for, whether it be egregious trade practices, intellectual property or human rights issues such as those in Xinjiang. Will my hon. Friend outline the steps taken to raise our concerns directly with the Chinese Government?

Absolutely. Again, my hon. Friend is right to raise this matter. We did so yesterday directly with the Chinese embassy. The Chinese ambassador is regularly summoned to the FCDO—one would think that he would have his own car parking space by now, given the number of times that he has visited. The Foreign Secretary has raised our serious concerns about the situation in Xinjiang directly with his counterpart, Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi, on a number of occasions, most recently in July.

It has been nearly two years since the Environmental Audit Committee published its report into fast fashion. During that inquiry, we heard disturbing evidence about practices in the cotton trade in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and about bondage child labour in the cotton mills of Tamil Nadu, and there was also reference to prison camps in China as well. The Government rejected nearly all of our recommendations, including a requirement for due diligence checks on the supply chain. Does the Minister regard that as a missed opportunity, and what progress has been made in the past two years since that warning sign was raised by the Environmental Audit Committee?

The hon. Lady is right to raise this. As I have mentioned on a number of occasions, we will be strengthening the Modern Slavery Act. That will be done at the earliest opportunity when parliamentary time allows. Since the work that she refers to, we have also been carrying out extensive work across Government on this particular issue and, as I have said to other hon. and right hon. Members, I ask her to have just a little bit of patience into the new year and she will be able to see the further work that the Government come forward with.

Given that the FCDO routinely engages with its Chinese counterparts, may I please ask the Minister what its reaction is when confronted with the evidence and whether diplomacy with China has any effect at all?

I can assure my hon. Friend that China does care deeply about its international reputation. We have seen China change its narrative in response to international pressure. One example is that it has moved from outright denial of the existence of these camps to claiming that they are vocational education centres. Its vigorous protest against our multilateral activity suggests that it cares a great deal about the action that we are taking, so I disagree with those who say that our diplomacy has no effect. Of course, the situation in Xinjiang remains deeply concerning, but that is a reason to doubly intensify our diplomatic efforts and not to abandon them.

Given the growing concern over the impact of disinformation emanating from Confucius Institutes, including efforts to deny that which is patently happening in Xinjiang, will the Minister and his Government colleagues be reviewing the presence of those institutions in the UK with a view to limiting their influence?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very good point that no one else has yet raised. A number of UK higher education providers host Confucius Institutes, and are responsible for ensuring that their partnerships are managed appropriately with the right due diligence in place. We take very seriously any concerns regarding the operation of international organisations at those education providers. Like all similar bodies, Confucius Institutes need to operate transparently and with a full commitment to our values of openness and freedom of expression.

I thank the Minister for responding to the urgent question and other questions for exactly an hour. We are now going to suspend briefly, just for the sanitisation of the Government Dispatch Box; the other was not touched.

Sitting suspended.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).