Tom Tugendhat: Ban goods from Chinese regions where Uyghurs face abuse

Tom Tugendhat - Jonathan Hordle/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Tom Tugendhat – Jonathan Hordle/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Britain should ban all imports of cotton from the Xinjiang region of China, where the government has been accused of crimes against humanity involving Uyghur Muslims, Tom Tugendhat has said.

The Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling, who has been tipped for a ministerial job in the Foreign Office if Liz Truss wins the Tory leadership contest on Monday, said Britain had “banned slavery a long time ago and we should not be buying goods made in such a way”.

A UN report into alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region of northwest China said last week that the regime may have been guilty of crimes against humanity there.

Forced to pick cotton

The report said “labour and employment schemes” in the region “may involve elements of coercion and discrimination on religious and ethnic grounds”, following reports of Uyghur people being forced to pick cotton for little or no pay.

Mr Tugendhat, the chairman of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, writes in Monday’s Daily Telegraph that the next prime minister should “explore the possibility of banning the import of all cotton products known to be produced in whole or in part in the Xinjiang region, in line with WTO rules”.

He writes: “We now know the high risk of coercion in Xinjiang. Your cotton T-shirt may well have been made with materials picked by an Uyghur in slave-like conditions.”

He also called for the UK to stop buying “any technology that facilitates repression in Xinjiang”, including surveillance cameras that have been used in British schools, hospitals and government buildings.

The United States has already banned imports from the region unless they can be proven not to have been produced using forced labour.

A criminal investigation

The UK has imposed fines for large firms operating in China that fail to show their products are not linked to slavery, but Mr Turgendhat said the Government should go further.

He also said the next Tory leader should “engage in dialogue with the International Criminal Court” about the possibility of a criminal investigation into human rights abuses.

Ms Truss has already indicated that she would take a tougher stance on China if she replaces Boris Johnson, by declaring the country an official “threat” to national security for the first time.

The UN’s report was released by Michelle Bachelet, its human rights chief, in her final hours in office last week, following lobbying from Chinese diplomats to prevent its publication.

Xinjiang produces around 20 per cent of the world’s cotton, and 80 per cent of all cotton exported from China.

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