China: Labour Programme in Tibet — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:11 am on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton 10:11 am, 7th October 2020

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith on having secured this debate. I fully support his powerful speech, and thank him for all the work he has done to raise the issue of human rights in China.

I believe that the Government are now actually listening; they are listening more than they did three or four years ago, when the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, which I chair, published its report “The Darkest Moment: The Crackdown on Human Rights in China, 2013-16”, which can still be found on our website— We made 22 recommendations in it, some of which have been echoed here today. It is a tragedy that four years on, yet we are still asking the same questions.

That report included a whole section on Tibet. We reported on the limited civil and political rights of people in Tibet—that was a quote, and the reason is partly because Mr Carmichael, to whom I also pay tribute for his work on this issue, talked about how there is progression of abuse. As the report said,

“the main causes of the Tibetan people’s grievances are China’s policies of political repression, cultural assimilation, economic marginalisation, social discrimination and environmental destruction in Tibet.”

We also detailed reports and testimonies about the treatment of political prisoners, including beatings by police and other security services during interrogation sessions, mock executions, electric shock treatment, the accused being locked in cells that were pitch black or so small they could not move, torture using iron chairs, and other egregious breaches of human rights, restricting freedom. What we did not report on then, but which we hear about today, is the forced abduction of hundreds—potentially thousands—of Tibetan people and their effective imprisonment elsewhere.

I ask the Minister to look at this report, which we are actively updating now, and at its recommendations. In the time I have left, I also want to suggest four ways in which the UK could effectively respond to these deeply concerning human rights issues in Tibet. The first is global human rights sanctions: I support calls for the Government to consider using the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 to target officials responsible for the use of forced or compulsory labour in Tibet. Names have been given to us; forced or compulsory labour is specified in those regulations as a violation, and under the regulations those sanctioned could face travel bans or asset freezes. We recall that when announcing those measures, the Foreign Secretary commented that the sanctions would be

“the latest next step forward in the long struggle against impunity for the worst human rights violations.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2020;
Vol. 678, c. 663-4.]

Will the Government now show that they intend to fulfil the express purpose of those sanctions, and hold to account the perpetrators of the human rights abuses we have heard about today?

Sanctioning officials responsible for human rights abuses in Tibet would send out a clear signal that the UK will stand up for human rights globally, wherever such abuses occur. I hope it would also open the way for similar judgments to be issued on cases regarding abuses against other minorities in China. We have heard about the Falun Gong, the Christians and others today. They were referred to in this report, several years ago.

I am deeply concerned to hear about the similarities between the report we have heard about today and the situation we see in Xinjiang with the Uyghurs. The international community must step up, and the UK must take a global lead and take action to stop Tibetans facing the same fate as the Uyghurs. It might already be too late. Will we follow the lead of the US in sanctioning officials?

Secondly, with regard to modern day slavery in supply chains, will the Government work to ensure due diligence and risk assessments are completed by UK businesses and public bodies with supply chains in Tibet, Xinjiang and other regions in China affected by forced labour? To do so would be in line with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which requires large organisations to report on efforts to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its supply chains or any part of the business.

A study conducted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that many household brands, such as Apple, BMW, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen, could be implicated in the use of forced Uyghur labour in the Xinjiang region. There are similar concerns about the fashion industry, with potentially almost a fifth of the world’s cotton supplies originating from Xinjiang. I urge the Government to work with businesses to ensure that supply chains originating from Tibet are not similarly tainted with forced labour. To enforce this, the Government should use their new powers to issue civil penalties for non-compliance with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which would require large organisations to report on steps they are taking to remove forced labour from supply chains and to demonstrate reasonable practices in their supply chains.

Thirdly, there is the issue of reciprocal access to Tibet. We called for that in our 2016 report and we have heard calls for it today. The Government must now surely ask for reciprocal and unrestricted access so that we can ensure an independent international investigation into reports of forced labour and other human rights abuses in Tibet. The Chinese Government have systematically obstructed travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas by foreign diplomats, officials and journalists. Reciprocal access would ensure that abuses in Tibet do not escape the world’s attention.

Before I close, I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. I support his Bill. He made a most powerful speech, and I thank him for the information that he brought to the Chamber today. Will the Minister look at a further report, which I did not bring today, that our Human Rights Commission has done on the Confucius Institutes, which my hon. Friend also mentioned? It goes into detail about the grave concerns about what is happening through their existence within our UK universities.

Finally, can the Minister update us on the UN’s position regarding the installation of a special rapporteur to investigate forced labour in China? Will he commit to raising this issue at the UN and call on the Secretary General of the UN to install a special rapporteur to investigate forced labour in Tibet? That will provide unbiased and thorough scrutiny of allegations of human rights abuses in Tibet. We need to ensure that the Government do not just listen and speak, but act.