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Forced Labour of Uyghurs: UK Supply Chains

Volume 711: debated on Tuesday 29 March 2022

4. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure that the supply chains of businesses in the UK do not use forced labour of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China. (906339)

In January 2021, we announced a robust package of measures to help to ensure that no UK organisations are complicit in the human rights violations being perpetrated in Xinjiang. We have also supplied detailed guidance to UK businesses, and will continue to engage with them.

I have lost count of the number of times I have urged the Government to take stronger, more robust action against China’s ongoing genocide of Uyghur Muslims. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was spot on when he said that UK organisations must immediately sever their commercial ties with Russia to ensure that public money is not funding Putin’s war machine. In the light of a genocide that is happening on our watch, is it not high time that the Government applied the same rules and ensured that public organisations sever their contracts with Xinjiang? Will they also support amendments to the Health and Care Bill to prevent the NHS from being complicit in forced Uyghur labour?

Evidence of the scale and severity of the human rights situation in Xinjiang paints a harrowing picture. The British Government will not stand for forced labour, wherever it takes place. We require businesses to report on how they are tackling modern slavery and forced labour in their operations and supply chains, and we plan to extend that to certain public bodies and to introduce financial penalties for organisations which do not comply. That will require legislative change, and legislation will be introduced when parliamentary time allows.

That was a pretty strong-sounding answer from the Minister, but let us see whether those fine words are put into practice. An audit undertaken two years ago found that 17% of organisations—more than 2,500—that should have published a modern slavery statement had failed to do so. Can the Minister tell us what action has been taken since then to ensure that they do?

On 11 March 2021, the Government launched an online modern slavery statement registry, and we are now encouraging all organisations within the scope of the legislation to submit their statements to it. More than 7,000 statements have been submitted, covering more than 23,350 organisations on that voluntary basis.

Canadian Solar wants to build a solar plant in my constituency the size of 1,400 football pitches. In 2021, four of its shipments were seized owing to its links with Uyghur blood labour, and its subsidiary GCL-Poly has been sanctioned by the United States Government because of its complicity in genocide. Will my hon. Friend assure me that we will blacklist from nationally significant infrastructure projects all those companies that are complicit in genocide, and confirm that we will not allow blood labour to stain our green and pleasant lands?

As I have said, we have strong procedures to vet suppliers, and we have been given repeated written assurances from people who supply that they proactively monitor supply chains to ensure that forced labour is not used. We will of course ensure that the company to which my hon. Friend has referred comes within that robust supervision.