To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, pursuant to the Answer of 21 January 2022 to Question 105332 on HSBC: Xinjiang Tianye, what plans she has to investigate the veracity of HSBC’s Modern Slavery Statement in response to reports that the company holds shares in Xinjiang-based companies alleged to have perpetrated mass atrocity crimes against the Uyghurs and others; and if she will make a statement.
The Government has serious concerns about the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. The Government’s overseas business risk guidance makes clear to UK companies the risks of operating in Xinjiang, and urges them to conduct appropriate due diligence and consider their corporate responsibilities when making investment decisions.
With regard to transparency reporting on modern slavery, the UK was the first country in the world to require businesses to report on the steps they have taken to tackle modern slavery. The landmark provision in section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires organisations, including financial institutions, with a turnover of £36m or more, to report annually on the steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.
The prevalence of modern slavery and complexity of global supply chains means that it is highly unlikely that any sector or company is immune from the risks of modern slavery. Section 54 therefore does not require organisations to certify that their supply chains are ‘slavery free’ or require the Government to verify the content of modern slavery statements. The Government expects companies to report transparently about how they are mitigating modern slavery risks and to use their modern slavery statements to demonstrate year on year progress. This enables consumers, shareholders and civil society to scrutinise the efforts being made.
Anyone with concerns about an organisation’s modern slavery statement should write to the Board of Directors (or equivalent) as the Act requires a modern slavery statement to be approved by the Board and signed by a Director (or equivalent) to ensure senior level accountability for modern slavery. Senior leaders are responsible for ensuring that their statements reflect the circumstances and action their organisation is taking.
Under the current provisions of section 54, if an organisation does not comply with their legal requirements in relation to producing a modern slavery statement, the Home Secretary can apply for an injunction to enforce compliance. To enhance the impact of transparency and accelerate action to prevent modern slavery, the Government committed to strengthening the reporting requirements contained in section 54 and to introduce financial penalties for organisations that fail to meet their statutory obligation to publish modern slavery statements. These measures require primary legislation and will be introduced when parliamentary time allows.