Retailers may be “complicit” in forced labour of Uighurs, MPs warn

Retailers may be
// A Commons committee accuses gov’t of failing to take action over UK business links to forced labour and other human rights abuses in China
// The committee’s report says some retailers may be “complicit” in the forced labour of China’s Uighur minority
// Committee’s report says it was “clearly unacceptable” Boohoo had only “minimal data” about the different tiers in its supply chain

Major companies, including retailers, that operate in the UK may have been “complicit” in the forced labour of China’s Uighur minority, MPs have warned.

In a highly critical report, the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee accused the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) of failing to to take action over UK business links to forced labour and other human rights abuses in China and elsewhere.

The findings come as some senior Conservative MPs attacked Prime Minister Boris Johnson for failing to adopt a tougher stance on Beijing in his Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy published on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Fashion retailers must prove products have no Uighur slave labour involvement, says MP

On the online retail giant Boohoo Group, the report said it was “clearly unacceptable” the company had only “minimal data” about the different tiers in its supply chain, which had resulted in “labour abuses” in the UK.

However, the report welcomed Boohoo Group’s appointment of former appeal court judge Sir Brian Leveson to review its transparency arrangements in the light of the committee’s inquiry.

A Boohoo Group spokeswoman said the retailer “has made extensive improvements to its supply chain practices”, and that the “group looks forward to publishing the details of its UK supply chain next week”.

Meanwhile, the committee said the government needed to do more to meet its commitments to uphold human rights.

It said this could include drawing up a black list of firms that cannot show they do not have supply chain links to Xinjiang and imposing sanctions on Chinese officials implicated in human rights abuses.

“Given the government’s admission that the situation facing the Uighur people in Xinjiang is harrowing and that international supply chains are likely to be complicit in the perpetuation of forced labour in the region, we are disappointed by the lack of meaningful action that has been taken in relation to these crimes,” the committee said.

“Given that evidence of serious human rights abuses in Xinjiang has been widely reported over many years, we are appalled that companies still cannot guarantee that their supply chains are free from forced labour.

“We found that many companies asserted that they have robust procedures for prohibiting human rights abuses while failing to undertake the necessary and basic due diligence procedures to know for certain that their supply chains are not implicated in slave labour or the abuse of minorities in China.”

In response to the report, a government spokesman said: “Forced labour is one of the world’s most despicable practices and the government will not stand for it, whether this exploitation takes place in the UK or abroad.

“The UK is the first country in the world to require businesses to report on how they are tackling modern slavery and forced labour in their operations and supply chains, and we are taking forward plans to extend that to certain public bodies and introduce financial penalties for organisations that don’t comply.”

with PA Wires

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