Wednesday 17 March 2021 6:59 am

Government should crack down on Uighur forced labour in business supply chains, MPs say

The government should toughen its anti-slavery measures to ensure that forced labour plays no part in the supply chains of major businesses, MPs have said.

A report from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee said that there was “compelling evidence” that major retail, media, and fashion companies are “complicit” in the forced labour of the Uighur people in China.

The committee said that it was “appalled” that these firms could not guarantee that their supply chains were not free of such happenings.

It called on ministers to bring forward plans to amend the 2015 Modern Slavery Act to develop civil penalties for firms in event of their failing to meet its standards.

And it said that BEIS should create a blacklist of companies that do not meet their obligations to uphold global human rights standards through their supply chains.

Tory MP Nusrat Ghani said that modern slavery legislation was not currently “fit for purpose”.

“It is deeply concerning that companies selling to millions of British customers cannot guarantee that their supply chains are free from forced labour”, he said.

“Modern slavery legislation and BEIS Department policy are not fit for purpose in tackling this grave situation.

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“Amid mounting evidence of abuses, it is deeply disappointing that the Government appears to lack the urgency and commitment to take the tough action which is both necessary and overdue.”

A government spokesperson said: “Forced labour is one of the world’s most despicable practices and the government will not stand for it, whether this exploitation takes place in the UK or abroad.

“The UK is the first country in the world to require businesses to report on how they are tackling modern slavery and forced labour in their operations and supply chains, and we are taking forward plans to extend that to certain public bodies and introduce financial penalties for organisations that don’t comply.”

As part of the investigation, the committee heard evidence from firms such as Boohoo, which has been under scrutiny for workplace standards at factories which produce its garments in Leicester.

The report said it was “clearly unacceptable” that Boohoo was found to have only minimal data about the different tiers in their supply chain, resulting in labour abuses in the UK.  

However, MPS welcomed the enquiry into the company.

In response, the fast fashion firm said it had “made extensive improvements to its supply chain practices”, and that the “group looks forward to publishing the details of its UK supply chain next week”.