London: Britain and Canada accused China on Tuesday of human rights violations and “barbarism” against the Uyghur minority and announced new rules to ban imports of goods suspected of using forced labor.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the violations were “on an industrial scale,” in stern comments that would do little to improve relations with Beijing, strained by its crackdown in Hong Kong.
He told Parliament: “It is really a horrific barbarism that we had hoped to lose for another era, practically today as we speak, in one of the prominent members of the international community.”
“We have a moral obligation to respond.”
The Chinese ambassador to the United Nations responded by warning Britain not to interfere in its affairs.
Raab has outlined plans to prevent UK companies from obtaining government contracts if they inadvertently or intentionally benefit from, or contribute to, human rights violations against Uighurs in Xinjiang Province, northwest China.
Measures also include strengthening the UK’s modern slavery law to introduce corporate purposes that do not comply with transparency rules, expanding the law to the public sector, and an “urgent review” of export controls around Xinjiang.
The move contrasts with a trade agreement signed in December between the European Union and China, which approved major investments and opened the Chinese market to the 27-nation bloc.
The deal was criticized for widespread allegations of forced labor in Chinese supply chains, and set the European Union apart from like-minded partners including the United States, Australia and Britain, all of which sought to verify China’s ambitions.
Canada followed Britain’s example by announcing a similar ban on goods suspected of using forced labor in Xinjiang.
Fashion industry concerns
Britain left the European Union in January last year, and as of January 1 this year, it is no longer bound by its rules.
It hopes to use Brexit as a way to promote Britain more focused on the world outside Europe.
Its “Global Britain” strategy includes targeted sanctions against human rights violators, which have so far imposed restrictions on individuals and groups from Russia and Saudi Arabia to North Korea.
Relations between Britain and China have grown increasingly tepid over the past two years, particularly because of London’s criticism of the crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong and its offer to grant citizenship to its residents.
London has also expressed concerns that the textile industry is not checking with sufficient precision whether goods from Xinjiang, which supplies nearly a quarter of the world’s cotton, are made using forced labor.
Raab told MPs that measures must be taken “to ensure that British companies are not part of the supply chains that lead to the gates of internment camps in Xinjiang.”
He added that the government needs to ensure that “the products of human rights violations that occur in these camps do not end up on the shelves of supermarkets that we shop here at home for a week or a week.”
China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, accused Britain on Tuesday of applying double standards in the fight against terrorism and called on London to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs.”
After a British government minister delivered a speech at a Security Council meeting, Zhang criticized what he described as a baseless “political attack”.
The Canadian Foreign Ministry said, in a statement, that it is “extremely concerned” and that the ban aims to prevent goods made “in whole or in part” from forced labor “from entering Canadian and global supply chains.”
British retailer Marks and Spencer pledged last week not to use cotton from Xinjiang, as concern in the fashion industry about their supply chains is growing.
International human rights groups have documented mounting evidence of forced labor, as well as forced sterilization, torture, surveillance, and suppression of Uyghur culture.
According to experts, at least one million Uighurs have been detained in recent years in political re-education camps in a huge region of China on the borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Beijing denied the accusations, saying it was running vocational training centers to counter Islamic extremism, following a series of attacks it attributed to the Islamic Group.