‘All words, no action’: Disappointment at Raab for lack of sanctions on China over Uighurs

Kim Sengupta
A member of the Muslim Uighur minority holds a child in her arms as she demonstrates in front of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul last month (Photo by BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)
A member of the Muslim Uighur minority holds a child in her arms as she demonstrates in front of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul last month (Photo by BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

British companies will face sizeable fines if they are found to be using products in their supply chain made by slave labour in China , Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has announced.

The measure follow accusations of widespread human rights abuse by the Beijing government against the Muslim community in Xinjiang, which included detainees being forced to work in factories as well mass internment and forced sterilisation.

But there was immediate criticism for a failure to impose widely expected sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the crackdown following similar penalties imposed by the US administration.

Mr Raab, it was claimed, was stopped from bringing in the penalties under UK version of the Magnitsky Act by pressure from government colleagues. Former Conservarice leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: “Surely Magnitsky sanctions should have been in this list. I wonder who it is in Government that is blocking this."

Also questioning the lack of sanctions, shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy accused Mr Raab of failing to match his condemnation of the Chinese regime with adequate action. "The strength of his words are once again not matched by the strength of his actions, and I'm sorry to say that that will be noticed loud and clear in Beijing”, she stated.

The foreign secretary also rejected Trade Bill amendments by the House of Lords which seek to block deals with countries judged by the High Court to have committed genocide.

Sir Iain stated "genocide really is a vital issue for us and I do think that ( Mr Raab) now needs to sit down and discuss with myself and others bringing forward a better amendment to make sure that we can start that process. In this week of the Holocaust memorial, we need to act. After all, when they last didn't act, just look what happened”.

But Mr Raab responded that while the proposed changes were "well-meaning" they would “actually be rather ineffective and counter-productive. It would be frankly absurd for any Government to wait for the human-rights situation in a country to reach the level of genocide, which is the most egregious international crime…"

Announcing the measures on companies and supply chains, Mr Raab told the Commons that the human rights situation in Xinjiang was "harrowing" and the UK had a "moral duty to respond". He continued “internment camps, arbitrary detention, political re-education, forced labour, torture and forced sterilisation - all on an industrial scale.It is truly horrific. Barbarism we had hoped lost to another era, being practiced today as we speak in one of the leading members of the international community”.

Under the Modern Slavery Act, firms with a turnover of more than £36 million must publish statements setting out what action they have taken to ensure there is no slavery in their supply chains. Those which fail to comply will now face a sizeable fine and government contracts will only go to companies which abide by these rules.

Dominic RaabPRU/AFP via Getty Images
Dominic RaabPRU/AFP via Getty Images

The failure to sanction Bejing officials, however, will be met by dismay by Uighur and Chinese human rights activists.

Rahima Mahmut, the UK project director at the World Uighur Congress and an advisor at the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said that Britain’s lack of action was the legacy of David Cameron’s government, which turned a blind eye to Beijing’s malpractice in the hope of ushering in a “golden era” of trade.

Speaking at an event organised by the US embassy in London to mark World Human Rights Day she said the lack of sanctions was “really painful, really hurtful... the transition cannot come so quickly when the previous government believed in that ‘Golden Era’, in golden opportunities.”

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