The British government has been accused of “putting off” trade related to forced labour.
A Chinese labor camp survivor is preparing to sue the UK commerce secretary for allowing cotton imports from western China’s Xinjiang province, where local minority groups such as the uyghurs have been subjected to human rights violations.
Erbakit Otarbay has spoken out despite warnings that she could endanger her family.
His lawyer, Paul Conrathe, says it is “shocking” that the UK government is “hiding behind manifestly inadequate legislation”. Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith says the UK is “lagging behind other countries”.
Mr. Otarbay, who is Chinese but of Kazakh ethnicity, was forced to work in a garment factory after being arrested in Xinjiang in 2017. He has written a pre-action letter to Commerce Secretary Kemi Badenoch, demanding that address the UK’s “continuous failure” by imposing restrictions on cotton imports from the region.
He says, “I’m lucky to be in a free country now. But I can’t stop thinking about the people I left behind. I don’t know what happened to them, what kind of horrors they’ve been subjected to.” .”
Mr. Otarbay was sent to a detention center in Xinjiang after being accused of watching illegal videos about Islam and installing WhatsApp on his phone. He says that he “wished to die quickly”, and was “chained and handcuffed” and tortured, repeatedly, until he passed out.
More than 280 organizations, including the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), are also calling for all Xinjiang products to be removed from supply chains.
They said “virtually the entire UK textile industry” is at risk of being linked to forced labour.
Ban on all cotton products from Xinjiang
Last year, the US announced an import ban on all cotton products from Xinjiang; companies also have to demonstrate that imports from the region are not produced using forced labor.
UK companies above a certain size must show that they avoid the use of slavery in their supply chains. But currently there is no penalty if they don’t. A coordinated campaign is being launched in Ireland, where EU rules have also been criticized for not being strict enough.
Sir Iain said the UK is “very closely associated” with slave labour, and the government must make it clear that companies face “serious penalties” for not declaring where they source their products from.
He said the UK “led the world” with the Modern Slavery Act, but “the key Achilles’ heel of our bill is that we need companies to take full responsibility for their supply chains”.
Earlier this year, the United Nations human rights office said China’s treatment of its Uyghur population ‘may constitute a crime against humanity’ and last december a UK court found China guilty of genocide against the Uighur people in Xinjiang.
China has always denied human rights violations. The government insists that the camps – which for a long time even denied their existence – are vocational training centers and part of a program to fight extremism.
Who are the Uyghurs and why do they face oppression from China?
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‘I thought I died’: Kazakhs say they were dragged away in shackles and mistreated in Chinese detention centers
‘We approve of forced labor products’
Twenty percent of the world’s cotton is grown in Xinjiang, according to Laura Murphy, a professor of human rights at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. She says failing to strengthen UK import rules is “akin to saying we approve of the products of forced labor entering our borders”.
In a statement, a government spokesman said: “The evidence of the scale and severity of human rights violations being perpetrated in Xinjiang against Muslim Uyghurs paints a truly harrowing picture that we absolutely condemn.
“The UK is absolutely committed to tackling the issue of Uyghur forced labor in supply chains and we have taken decisive action.
“Over the past year, we have introduced new guidance on the risks of doing business in Xinjiang, as well as better export controls, and committed to introducing financial penalties for organizations that fail to comply with modern slavery reporting requirements. “.