Canada and U.K. unveil measures to ensure domestic firms are not complicit in China’s forced labour camps

In this 2018 file photo, people line up at the Artux City Vocational Skills Education Training Service Center at the Kunshan Industrial Park in China’s Xinjiang region.

Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press

Canada and the United Kingdom announced measures to ensure Canadian and U.K. companies are not complicit in human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, the focus of growing international attention over mass detentions, forced labour and alleged genocide.

The United Nations estimates that more than a million Muslims have been detained in Xinjiang, a region in northwest China, and activists say crimes against humanity and genocide are taking place there. China has denied any abuses and says its camps in the region provide vocational training and help fight extremism.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois Philippe Champagne, who became Innovation Minister in a cabinet shuffle Tuesday, and International Trade Minister Mary Ng said the steps Canada is taking are intended to ensure Canadian companies, and the Canadian government, are not complicit in China’s abuse of the minority Muslim Uyghur population of Xinjiang.

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“Canada is deeply concerned regarding the mass arbitrary detention and mistreatment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities by Chinese authorities. Nobody should face mistreatment on the basis of their religion or ethnicity,” Mr. Champagne said in a statement.

Measures include: prohibiting the import of goods produced wholly or in part by forced labour; requiring Canadian companies doing business in the region to certify they are not knowingly sourcing products or services from a supplier implicated in forced labour or other human rights violations; commissioning a study to determine the extent that Canada’s supply chains are tied to forced labour.

Canada’s merchandise export with China totalled $23-billion 2019 while Canada’s merchandise imports with China totalled $75-billion in 2019.

The U.K. measures are similar but they include tougher penalties for companies breaking the rules. Canada will withdraw trade support and access to export loans for companies that run afoul of these measures; the U.K. said British companies that fail to comply could face penalties.

More than 80 per cent of China’s cotton originates in Xinjiang. It’s been estimated that 20 to 25 per cent of the world’s tomatoes come from Xinjiang. The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, one of the main government entities that runs detention camps for Uyghurs, also produces tomatoes for export that end up in ketchup and tomato sauce around the world.

Last fall, MPs on a parliamentary committee dominated by the governing Liberal Party said China had committed “genocide” against its Muslim Uyghur minority and called for Magnitsky-style sanctions against Chinese officials.

The statement from the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights came shortly after China’s envoy to Canada warned parliamentarians against recognizing the mass detention and abuse of Uyghurs in Xinjiang province as genocide. The United Nations calls genocide a crime under international law.

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The all-party committee’s three-page statement called the Chinese detention facilities concentration camps and urged the government to not only condemn China’s actions in Xinjiang, but recognize that they constitute genocide, and work with allies to help international observers gain access. It followed a study the committee has undertaken on Xinjiang.

More to come…

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