While all the fashion companies mentioned say they do not source products from factories or suppliers based in Xinjiang, none could guarantee definitively the raw cotton they source for their products does not partly originate from Xinjiang

While all the fashion companies mentioned say they do not source products from factories or suppliers based in Xinjiang, none could guarantee definitively the raw cotton they source for their products does not partly originate from Xinjiang

UK firms are unable to guarantee their supply chains are free of forced labour of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, China, a Government committee has warned, as it calls for tougher anti-modern slavery requirements and measures to force firms to eradicate forced labour in their supply chains.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee made the recommendations in its 'Uyghur forced labour in Xinjiang and UK supply chains' report, which was published today (17 March) following a probe into what extent UK firms have links with Xinjiang, which heard evidence from the likes of Nike, Boohoo Group and H&M.

The report notes compelling evidence that many major companies in the fashion, retail, media and technology sectors with large footprints in the UK are complicit in the forced labour of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Given that evidence of serious human rights abuses in Xinjiang has been widely reported over many years, the Committee says it is "appalled" that companies still cannot guarantee that their supply chains are free from forced labour.

While all the fashion companies mentioned say they do not source products from factories or suppliers based in Xinjiang, and a number of them noted they do not have any business relationships with the region, none could guarantee definitively the raw cotton they source for their products does not partly originate from Xinjiang. 

"We received evidence from several companies laying out the steps they have taken to deliver transparency in their supply chains and to ensure they are not profiting from human rights abuses in Xinjiang and other parts of the world. However, we remain deeply concerned that companies selling to millions of British customers cannot guarantee that their supply chains are free from forced labour, and that modern slavery legislation and BEIS Department policy are not fit for purpose in tackling this serious situation," the report states.

"Given the Government's admission that the situation facing the Uyghur people in Xinjiang is harrowing and that international supply chains are likely to be complicit in the perpetuation of forced labour in the region, we are disappointed by the lack of meaningful action that has been taken in relation to these crimes."

The report recommends the Government accelerates proposals to amend and strengthen the Modern Slavery Act 2015, to enhance the transparency and accessibility of modern slavery statements and develop options for civil penalties in the event of non-compliance.

It recommends the development of a policy framework for creating a whitelist and blacklist of companies that do and do not meet their obligations to uphold human rights throughout their supply chains.

"It is deeply concerning that companies selling to millions of British customers cannot guarantee that their supply chains are free from forced labour," says Nusrat Ghani M, lead BEIS Committee member for the forced labour in UK value chains inquiry). "Modern slavery legislation and BEIS Department policy are not fit for purpose in tackling this grave situation. The Government must act to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act, introduce a tougher business policy framework, and examine the use of targeted sanctions to ensure every effort is made to stamp out profiteering from these abuses. 

"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. Amid compelling evidence of abuses, there has been a sorry absence of significant new Government measures to prohibit UK businesses from profiting from the forced labour of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and other parts of China."

The committee's full report can be found here.