Calls in Parliament for the new Trade Bill to impose a human rights threshold to protect those – like Uighurs – subjected to human rights violations. And a call to take national resilience and over dependence on trade with regimes controlled by violators.
2.55 pm Tuesday 8th September 2020
My Lords, the House has heard a thoughtful and exemplary maiden speech from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. …. On the basis of today’s curtain-raising maiden speech, those are contributions to which we will look forward with great anticipation.
I want to talk briefly about national resilience and our human rights obligations in future trade deals. Following exchanges and a meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, whom I also congratulate on his maiden speech today, I gave him the Henry Jackson Society report Breaking the China Supply Chain. That report finds that in 229 separate categories of goods, the UK is strategically dependent upon China for our supplies. Equally troubling is that 57 of these categories involve critical national infrastructure, including computers, technology, telephones, antibiotics, painkillers such as aspirin, anti-viral medicines, PPE and industrial chemicals. It recommends that we conduct a national review of the industries dependent on China; make reducing dependency on China—and, indeed, other human-rights-abusing states—an aim of new trade deals; and campaign for the withdrawal of China’s “developing nation” status at the WTO. We must move the United Kingdom away from a position in which its economic dependency can be weaponised to discourage the UK from championing human rights or the rules-based order, which the Minister referred to in his speech.
Concerns, and the need for concerted action by liberal democracies, have only grown stronger following the way in which the Chinese Communist Party has tried to deploy economic coercion against Australia following its calls for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. What is the Minister’s view about a comprehensive review of national resilience? And what of human rights? In 2015, the UK enacted the Modern Slavery Act; yet over recent months, we have seen reports suggesting that many UK-based and UK trading brands are benefiting from the forced labour of Uighur Muslim communities in China. A recent report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimates that some 80,000 Uighurs are working in factories in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen. Some of the same companies also turn a blind eye to the use of child labour in lethal conditions in Congolese mines.
Cross-departmental action is needed. If the Bill were amended to incorporate concerns about egregious violations of human rights—something I know is close to the heart of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman—as I suggested in a letter to the noble Lord and to Ministers involved with telecommunications Bills, it would address the matters raised by Members of both Houses; not least by those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, supported my amendment to the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill. I hope we will return to these questions at a later stage of the Bill.