British companies will face hefty fines unless they can show their supply chains are free from forced labour, the foreign secretary has announced.
The new measures unveiled on Tuesday are aimed at tackling human rights abuses of Uighur Muslims in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.
Companies will also be given new guidance on how to carry out due diligence on their producers to make sure they are not linked to human rights abuses. Firms found wanting will additionally be barred from UK public sector contracts.
The Chinese government has been accused of widespread human rights abuses in Xinjiang, including mass internment, slave labour, and allegations of forced sterilisation.
The foreign secretary’s comments came as the prime minister took his own swipe at Beijing – making use of an international green policy event to hit out at practices in traditional Chinese medicine that make use of rare animal parts.
“We must do more and we will,” the foreign secretary Mr Raab told the House of Commons on Tuesday.
“Xinjiang’s position in the international supply chain network means that there is a real risk of businesses and public bodies around the world, whether it’s inadvertently or otherwise, sourcing from suppliers which are complicit in the use of forced labour.”
Mr Raab added: “This package put together will help make sure that no British organisations, government or private sector, deliberately or inadvertently are profiting from, or contributing to, human rights violations against the Uighurs or other minorities in Xinjiang.”
But answering questions from MPs, Mr Raab said so-called “Magnitsky sanctions” that target the financial assets of high net worth individuals would be kept “in reserve”.
The fines, whose details will be spelt out at a later date, will represent an update of the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, which already requires all companies over a certain annual turnover to explain how they are ensuring that modern slavery and trafficking is not taking place in their business or supply chain.
Mr Raab said: “Here in the UK we must take action to make sure that UK businesses are not part of the supply chains that lead to the gates of the internment camps in Xinjiang.
“And to make sure that the products of the human rights violations that take place in those camps don’t end up on the shelves of supermarkets that we shop in here at home, week in and week out.”
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy criticised the lack of Magnitsky sanctions, telling MPs: “The strength of his [the foreign secretary’s] words are once again not matched by the strength of his actions and I am sorry to say that will be noticed loud and clear in Beijing.”
It comes after Boris Johnson used an appearance at an international climate summit to hit out at the “demented beliefs” of traditional Chinese medicines that he claimed started the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at the One Planet Summit hosted by French president Emmanuel Macron with a focus on biodiversity and rewilding, he turned to focus on the suspected origins of the virus transferring to humans, describing it as a “collision between mankind and the natural world”.
“Obviously it’s right to focus on climate change, obviously it’s right to cut CO2 emissions, but we won’t achieve a real balance with our planet unless we protect nature as well”, he said.
“One final thought, don’t forget that the coronavirus pandemic was the product of an imbalance in man’s relationship with the natural world.
“Like the original plague which struck the Greeks I seem to remember in book one of the Iliad, it is a zoonotic disease.
“It originates from bats or pangolins, from the demented belief that if you grind up the scales of a pangolin you will somehow become more potent or whatever it is people believe, it originates from this collision between mankind and the natural world and we’ve got to stop it.”