Government challenged about the use of slave labour in Uighur camps in Xinjiang
Baroness Williams of Trafford, the Home Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL8617):
Question from Lord Alton of Liverpool:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the response by Lord Grimstone of Boscobel on 29 September (HL Deb, cols GC49), whether they are examining supply chains that may be connected to the use of slave labour in Xinjiang; and what prosecutions for breaches of that Act, in connection with Uighur slave labour, are either under way or being prepared. (HL8617)
Tabled on: 30 September 2020
Baroness Williams of Trafford:
On 25 September at the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the Government set out our grave concerns about reports of forced labour in Xinjiang. We urge businesses involved in investing in Xinjiang, with parts of their supply chains in Xinjiang, or with any other business involvement in the region to conduct appropriate due diligence to satisfy themselves that their activities do not support, or risk being seen to be supporting, any human rights violations or abuses.
Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires certain businesses with a turnover of £36m or more, equating to approximately 16,000 businesses, to report annually on the steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. The Government encourages companies to report transparently about how they are mitigating modern slavery risks and to use their modern slavery statements to demonstrate year on year progress.
The prevalence of modern slavery and complexity of global supply chains means that it is highly unlikely that any company is immune from the risks of modern slavery. Section 54 therefore does not require organisations to certify that their global supply chains are ‘slavery free’ or that the Government verifies the content of modern slavery statements.
The Government continues to strengthen its approach and following an Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act, the Home Office ran a public consultation on a range of proposals to strengthen Section 54. On 22 September 2020 the Government published its response to this consultation and announced plans to strengthen the Act and the transparency in thousands of business and public body supply chains by:
- harnessing the spending power of the public sector, which accounts for approximately £250bn annual spend and extending the reporting requirement to public bodies with a budget of £36 million or more;
- radically enhancing the transparency and accessibility of modern slavery statements by requiring organisations to publish their statements on the new Government digital reporting service;
- improving the quality of statements by requiring organisations to report against specific topics, including how they risk assess their supply chains and the due diligence they have undertaken, and to clearly state if they have omitted a topic.
- driving greater accountability by setting a single reporting deadline on which all modern slavery statements must be published; and
- Developing options for civil penalties for non-compliance in line with the ongoing development of the Single Enforcement Body for employment rights.
The Government has committed to implementing these changes when parliamentary time allows.
Date and time of answer: 14 Oct 2020 at 12:09.