LONDON — U.K. ministers are preparing to ban the government from buying health goods made in China’s Xinjiang region, amid mounting pressure from Conservative MPs over Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghur people.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, is pre-empting the threat of a major rebellion from his own party next week with an amendment to the U.K.’s Health and Care Bill that would seek the “eradication” of slavery from health care supply chains.
The legislation could require private companies obtaining NHS contracts to meet criteria on modern slavery grounds, potentially creating a blacklist of companies that have failed the U.K.’s test.
Tory rebels had been preparing the force the government’s hand next week when the bill is due to return to the Commons.
China has been accused of forced-labor abuses in Xinjiang. Uyghur campaigners and international experts say China is seeking to control the Muslim population there through forced sterilizations, brainwashing in camps and the destruction of mosques.
The amendment is not targeted at companies in any specific country but reflects ministers’ concerns over the Chinese government’s practices in Xinjiang, a major hub for global supply chains and source of much of the world’s cotton.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who has been leading the rebellion, welcomed the “significant move” by Javid.
He said, “I urge all other government departments to do the same as quickly as possible. We will be sending the most powerful signal to those around the world that exploit and terrorize those weaker than themselves that the swords of justice are on their trail.”
Anti-slavery campaigners, meanwhile, hailed the move as “the biggest advance in modern slavery legislation” since Britain launched its crackdown on the practice in 2015.
The move effectively beefs up a House of Lords amendment to the Health and Care Bill that was sponsored by the former Tory chief whip David Maclean, known as Lord Blencathra.
Luke de Pulford, CEO of anti-slavery charity Arise, who pushed for the amendment said: “This is, by some distance, the biggest advance in modern slavery legislation since the Modern Slavery Act 2015. In fact, it’s much more significant in that it raises the bar massively for government procurement.”
De Pulford added: “This puts Sajid Javid’s department way out front on human rights, and huge credit has to go to him, his officials, and Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who worked so hard to make this happen.”
Rahima Mahmut of the World Uyghur Congress said: “It means so much to my people that people in other countries are standing up to China. For too long the U.K. has pretended that it’s possible to increase trade with China while denouncing their human rights atrocities. I hope this is the beginning of the end for China’s trade impunity, and wish to thank Sajid Javid personally, who I met the other night, and who I believed when he told me he would do ‘all he could’ for the Uyghur people.”