January 13, 2021

UK moves to tighten controls on business dealings in Xinjiang

On January 12, 2021, UK First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Dominic Raab addressed the Parliament on the government’s response to the situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China.  Secretary Raab began by cataloguing the human rights violations committed by the Chinese authorities against the people of Xinjiang.  These include forced labor, restrictions on Uyghur culture and education, constraints on the practice of Islam,  extrajudicial detention under inhumane conditions, forced sterilizations, and torture.  In addition, there is evidence that mosques have been destroyed, and more than a million Uyghurs and other minorities are being held in political re-education camps. In response, the UK is putting diplomatic pressure on China; however, the Secretary noted that thus far the Chinese government has refused to allow access to Xinjiang by independent experts and United Nations officials.  At the same time, the UK has taken measures to ensure that the products of forced labor do not enter the supply chain in the UK.  The four measures described by Raab are:

  • Detailed guidance has been issued by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and the Department for International Trade to UK businesses, describing the risks companies run by doing business in Xinjiang, and the due diligence challenges they face – including prohibitions on access, and the unlikelihood that workers will be able to communicate truthfully and freely.  A business engagement campaign led by government ministers will be undertaken, aimed at encouraging businesses to take appropriate action to address the associated risk;
  • Enhanced operation of the Modern Slavery Act, which requires companies with more than £36 annual turnover to submit statements detailing their efforts to combat modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.  The enhancements include new fines for companies that do not comply with the law, for which legislation will be introduced as soon as possible;
  • Extension of the transparency requirements of the Modern Slavery Act to the public sector. These changes were announced in September 2020, and will now benefit from guidance developed by the FCDO and Cabinet Office to help government bodies exclude suppliers involved in human rights violates, with the objective of barring from government procurement in the UK any company that profits from forced labor, and;
  •  A review of export controls, in view of preventing the export of goods that could contribute to human rights violations in Xinjiang.

At the same time, FCDO updated its 2014 guidance on overseas business risks in China.

Raab remarks | FCDO guidance (China)