Government challenged “Is it a case of business as usual?” with China – following allegations of crimes against humanity or genocide. Minister says U.K. is “actively and carefully” studying an amendment to the Trade Bill. Baroness Helena Kennedy insists that trade must not be elevated above human rights.

Nov 18, 2020 | Uncategorized

Uighur slave labour in Xinjiang. is it to be business as usual?

My Lords, in the House of Commons yesterday the Trade Minister, Greg Hands MP, said:

We are negotiating better market access in markets such as … China”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/11/20; col. 196.]

Today Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, has called on the UN to investigate the horrors being perpetrated in Xinjiang. Some 180 human rights groups say that many of the world’s biggest fashion brands and retailers, along with suppliers of PPE to the United Kingdom, and companies such as Huawei and Volkswagen are complicit in the forced labour and human rights violations of millions of Uighur people in Xinjiang. Atrocities include torture, forced separation and the compulsory sterilisation of Uighur women. Is it a case of business as usual, or does the Minister believe that, where allegations of crimes against humanity or genocide are made, these should have consequences for trade with China? Will he therefore accept the amendment on genocide that I have tabled to the Trade Bill?

The noble Lord always speaks on this topic with both expertise and passion. We understand the importance that noble Lords attach to these matters. The Government are studying them actively and carefully.

My Lords…It is clear from many of our debates that the House does not want trade to be elevated above human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, put his finger on the particular problems regarding China. The Government give the right rhetorical support on this, but it is difficult to have confidence when the Minister is on record as saying that

everything in China gets associated with politics, but we have to look through politics to help get successful business with China”,

and that:

The fact that Xi is prepared to give such strong authoritarian guidance within the context of a market economy is great for companies like mine

I am afraid that this does not give a lot of assurance to those of us who are concerned about the horrors taking place in China.

My Lords, the noble Baroness refers to comments that I made in my previous life, when I was chairing a major business in China for the United Kingdom. It is important to realise the context within which those comments were made but, as I have said previously at this Dispatch Box, I have no patience with authoritarian regimes and I am completely in agreement with the Government’s policy in relation to China.

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