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Tackling Modern Slavery: Trade Negotiations

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 9 February 2023

14. What steps her Department is taking through trade negotiations to help tackle modern slavery in global supply chains. (903579)

The UK is a world leader in the promotion of human rights and remains committed to ensuring that trade supports an environment where workers’ rights are upheld, including working towards the eradication of modern slavery in global supply chains. We should remember that the UK was the first country to produce a national action plan for the implementation of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights. In both our agreements with Australia and New Zealand, for example, we have secured world-leading modern slavery provisions.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but the UK has named the Gulf Cooperation Council as one of its priorities for trade deals and has begun negotiations. We know that the economies across the Gulf are built on the terrible kafala system, enabling coercion and debt bondage and facilitating modern slavery. How can the Government justify such talks with the Gulf Cooperation Council given those basic human rights concerns?

Protecting UK workers’ rights remains a priority for this Government. The UK will continue to meet its obligations under the International Labour Organisation and to advocate for the highest labour standards and working conditions globally, and that includes in our discussions on free trade agreements. In the UK GCC FTA, we will retain the UK’s high standards and protections, including the right to regulate labour, and we will also seek assurances that labour rights are not reduced to gain a trade advantage. We have these discussions in this and other Departments, and we are always happy to have frank conversations with our friends.