Parliamentary committee produces damning report
Report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee accuses China of genocide towards the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. The report is entitled: Never Again: the UK’s Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinxiang and Beyond. It does not pull its punches. It is perhaps one of several events which are leading to a reappraisal of our relations with China. The previous Conservative administration was keen to see an improvement in our relations and with it, increases in trade and development. The treatment of the Uyghurs, the repression in Hong Kong, threats to the integrity of Taiwan and the poor behaviour in the early months of the Covid pandemic, is slowly forcing countries to think again.
The crimes being committed against the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are truly horrifying. The Chinese government is responsible for the mass detention of more than a million Uyghurs, for forcing them into industrial-scale forced labour programmes, and for attempting to wipe out Uyghur and Islamic culture in the region through forced sterilisation of women, destruction of cultural sites, and separation of children from families. It is altogether a gruesome picture and shocking behaviour from on the UN’s Security Council members.
The Committee heard that under the guise of counter-terrorism, the Chinese government is committing mass atrocities and human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Reports include the use of forced labour programmes, arbitrary detention in internment camps, cultural erasure, systematic rape, forced sterilisations, separation of children from their families, and a high-technology surveillance system – all endorsed by the Chinese government’s central leadership. Thousands of mosques have been demolished.
One element of the report relates to cotton. It is estimated that some 570,000 people are forced to work picking cotton 84% of which comes from Xinjiang. Satellite imagery shows the use of surveillance equipment, factories surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers. The report notes that ‘virtually the entire’ UK textile and clothing is linked to the abuses.
Virtually the entire UK textile and clothing industry is linked to the abuses in Xinjiang
The UK government has adopted a low profile in this matter although there are signs of a stiffening of attitudes. The Committee argues that guidance is insufficient and that ‘stricter methods’ are needed.
The problem for the public, many of whom are horrified by the stories emerging from Xinjiang, is that action is difficult. How does one know, when buying a cotton T shirt or blouse, whether it has Chinese cotton in it produced by Uyghur slaves? We have to rely on firms applying due diligence in their supply chains. Undoubtedly, some retailers will take this seriously – not just as a matter of morals but because of the risk of reputational damage – whereas others may not do so. A representative of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) thought that voluntary action would not be enough for some retailers. We rely therefore on government to take the lead.
The government is financially supporting the Australian Strategic Policy Institute ASPI, which produces analysis of Chinese actions. A report on the Uyghurs is available here.
To see in more detail what the Ethical Trade Initiative says about the Chinese situation follow this link.