Archive for the ‘slavery’ Category


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.


Call for corporations to ensure due diligence carried out in supply chains

The main thrust of human rights activity since the war and the creation of the UN Declaration has been at governments and trying to improve their behaviour. Campaigns have been waged to stop the use of torture, arbitrary detention, unfair trials and ‘disappearing’ people the regime does not like.

There is now however, an increasing awareness that corporations are key players and, via their supply chains, can have enormous effects on the environment and on the human rights of millions of people in their supply chains. A parliamentary briefing by the Corporate Justice Commission says:

This parliamentary briefing argues that we urgently need a new law to hold companies to account when they fail to prevent human rights abuses and environmental harms. This law should mandate companies to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence’ across their supply chains.

A Failure to Prevent law is vital to ensure the pursuit of a global green transition and a just recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. It would help the UK to deliver its “Global Britain” vision, retain its leadership on business and human rights, and ensure a level playing field for UK business.

Our proposed law would bring the UK in line with its international commitments on human rights and the environment and build on a 2017 recommendation for such a law from the UK’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. It mirrors existing provisions in the UK Bribery Act and matches developments across several states and the European Union.

Corporate Justice Coalition, October 2020

Amnesty and other groups including the TUC and Friends of the Earth have joined in this call.

Much of this activity is hidden from us. We simply see the end product in our shops without always realising that it may have been produced by forced labour, or even slave labour. Recently, it was alleged that the Chinese were using Uyghur slaves to produce cotton. There is also environmental destruction to extract minerals or timber.

There should perhaps be a greater shift in attention towards the activities of these corporate giants who operate almost outside any law.


Edited: 10 April 20

We have chosen to review the book Twilight of Human Rights Law by Prof. Eric Posner (OUP) as it appeared in an article by Britain’s new Attorney General, Suella Braverman.  She refers to one of his arguments in a newspaper article.  In addition, the many attacks on human rights and the desire to abolish the Human Rights Act is part of current government policy.

The first part of the book is a tour d’horizon of the many failings in human rights around the world.  He instances massive violations in places like Rwanda, the appalling treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar, the terrible events in Chechnya and many other places around the world.  He rightly points out that although countries have signed up to treaties to abolish the use of torture, it is still widely practised.  He points to bad police practice in countries like India, Brazil and Indonesia.  Slavery is still the curse it ever was but organised in a different way.

International treaties have had little effect he says in improving behaviour.  In a small number of cases it has he concedes.  He discusses the imperialist criticism of western states seeking to impose their moral compass on other countries based on attitudes dating back to colonial days.  He instances the use of torture by the Americans at Guantanomo Bay following 9/11.  This was supported by a majority of Americans and thus challenges their claims of moral leadership.

The argument seized on by the Attorney General is that of a trade-off as far as the use of torture is concerned.  The argument here is that many countries have limited resources.  They have a choice between spending money on improving the police and stopping torture or, investing in health care or education.  Since better health care and eduction is likely to be of greater benefit to more people, it is a preferred option.

THE book is flawed in many important respects.  Although the arguments he provides and examples of failure and continuing violations and bad behaviour by many states around the world are true enough, it is not true to say that there have been no improvements in the human rights everywhere.  One of the problems is that transgressions are news: steady improvements aren’t.  So we read or see TV programmes about violations or genocide for example, but not small improvements in say, Russia.

The argument about torture assumes that there is an economic equivalence between improving police behaviour and education spend.  The two are likely to be vastly different.  Improving police behaviour and that of the judiciary would cost millions, education costs significantly more than that.  Moreover, education is a continuing cost, sorting out the police is more likely to be a one-off cost.  Getting rid of torture is likely to have benefits to society.  The police are trusted then they will get more support from the public.  He gives no credence to the fact that torture is ineffective.  People will say anything to get it to stop.

Another unconsidered factor is the very cost of running a police state.  To run a state like China where human rights are flouted on a massive scale, is immensely costly.  The Chinese monitor movements of its people, they have a vast system of tracking the worldwide web to ensure its citizens do not read what the state doesn’t want them to, and they employ a huge army of police and informers.  They have invested heavily in cameras and systems to watch its people’s movements.  It is not true to assume therefore that improving human rights is somehow automatically more costly than the politics of repression.

As AC Grayling puts it in his book Ideas that Matter (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2009);

The ideas embodied in all these human rights instruments have a powerful influence on thinking and behaviour, even if violation of them continues: hope has to lie in the future as these ideas become more widespread and more influential still.  (p179)

Although Posner gives a good summary of human rights, especially since the war, he does not discuss the longer history since Magna Carta. There has been a trend over centuries of citizens gradually acquiring more rights.  The European Court has, slowly but surely, done a lot to raise standards as has the International Criminal Court.  Nor does he credit the fact that the presence of treaties is an important support for people pressing for better rights in those countries where they are poor.  The many human rights organisations are able to pursue their arguments and press for changes precisely because there is a corpus of treaties and law to base their actions on.  The point overlooked by the professor is that the treaties enable action within the country itself.

He also makes great play of the numbers of treaties and long list of rights, which he says, renders them less effective.  He lists them all in an appendix but upon examination, many are restating the same points.  He seems to overlook the vast number of laws which govern most states.  These are constantly added to as new problems emerge or old problems need solutions, the Children Act for example.  The number of laws do not make improving society less effective – quite the opposite it could be argued.

Perhaps because Prof. Posner is a lawyer but he sees progress purely through the lens of law and treaties.  He does not take into account that laws are just one part of the equation.  A considerable amount is done by persuasion, human rights activists, diplomats and others (including Amnesty members) beyond pure legal action.

Overall, despite the long list of problems and failures, he does not convince that it is twilight for human rights.

Human Rights tableau, France

 

 

 

 

Slavery

Posted: April 25, 2017 in slavery
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Talk by Robert Key on Slavery

Robert Key. Picture: Cathedral School

Voyages to Hell: Pirates and Slaves is the title of an illustrated history the former MP for Salisbury Robert Key,  is giving on Friday 12 May.  Many people think that slavery was abolished in the nineteenth century with the end of the trade in slaves across the Atlantic.  It is however alive and well and is taking many different forms in the modern world.

The talk will take place in Stevenson Hall, Leaden Hall Campus, Salisbury Cathedral School, starting at 7:30 with a bar from 7:00.  Tickets are £10 each at the door, or to be sure of a seat, through Peter Lane 01264 771701 or phlane@btinternet.com.  Money raised will go to the Cathedral Choir Foundation.

Robert Key is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries


Anti Slavery International