The government is joining its international partners in cracking down on companies who are doing business with certain firms based in China’s Xinjiang region, following “credible reports of human rights violations affecting [Uighurs] and other ethnic minorities in the region.”
The federal government highlighted a host of measures on Tuesday in a bid to move in on businesses that are profiting off forced labour.
“Canada is deeply concerned regarding the mass arbitrary detention and mistreatment of [Uighurs] and other ethnic minorities by Chinese authorities,” read a quote in the press release from Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne, who until Tuesday served as minister of foreign affairs.
“Nobody should face mistreatment on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. Together with the U.K., we are taking action to ensure we are not complicit in the abuse of the [Uighur] Muslims in Xinjiang.”
The U.K. made parallel announcement the same day, the government said.
The government urged companies with business links to the Xinjiang region to “closely examine their supply chains” to make sure their companies aren’t participating in the use of forced labour.
“Reports indicate mass transfers of [Uighur] labourers to factories across China where they are enrolled in forced labour programs that taint global supply chains in a variety of industries,” read an advisory from Global Affairs Canada, published Tuesday.
It went on to say that the government expects companies to take “every step possible to ensure that their supply chains conform to Canadian law with respect to the prohibition on the import of goods produced by forced labour.”
In addition to this, Canadian companies with ties – or seeking to have ties – to the Xinjiang region will also now be required to sign a declaration with the Trade Commissioner Service.
That declaration would acknowledge the company “is aware of the human rights situation in Xinjiang; abides by all relevant Canadian and International laws, respects human rights, and seeks to meet or exceed OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.”
The feds also plan to raise awareness about the risks of doing business in Xinjiang, including through a study on the allegations of forced labour in the region.
On Oct. 20, the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights released a statement detailing the findings of its own study into the human rights situation of Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
It found China’s treatment of its Uighur population constitutes a “genocide.”
The statement described horrific human rights abuses, including mass detentions, forced sterilizations, claims of widespread organ harvesting, and coerced labour.
“Survivors of the concentration camps described deplorable conditions. The subcommittee heard that detainees are abused psychologically, physically and sexually. They are forbidden from speaking the [Uighur] language or practising their religion,” read the statement.
Over the course of its study, the subcommittee heard from a number of witnesses, including Uighurs who fled the region, people who have been inside the camps, former detainees and their family members, as well as a variety of experts and academics.
“One concentration camp survivor also raised the troubling prospect that the Government of China is collecting DNA information from detainees, without their consent, to determine the compatibility of their organs for later harvesting,” it added.
Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu called the allegations of mistreatment of China’s Uighur population “fake news.”
As a result of the findings, Members of Parliament from all parties urged the government to impose sanctions on Chinese officials.
The government has yet to take any such action, and this latest advisory does not announce any new consequences for the use of forced labour.
Still, violations of the existing prohibitions could result in consequences, such as Canada barring the importation of certain products. There are also legal consequences under new human rights provisions in the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement.
“In addition to legal risks, companies face reputational damage related to their supply chains if it is discovered that they are sourcing from entities that employ forced labour,” the advisory read.
Companies that export surveillance technology are particularly susceptible to having their products used to violate the human rights of the Uighur population in China, the advisory warned. Products like cameras, sensors and biometric devices are at extra risk of being used “to arbitrarily track [Uighurs] and others in Xinjiang.”
Because human rights are enshrined in Canada’s Export and Import Permit Act (EIPA), companies whose products are found to be used to violate human rights might also find their export permits denied.
The advisory warns all companies and individuals to consider whether any of their products participate in human rights violations.
“The Government of Canada expects Canadian companies active abroad, in any market or country, to respect human rights, operate lawfully, conduct their activities in a responsible manner and adopt voluntary best practices and internationally respected guidelines,” the advisory reads.