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Mon 30 November 2020
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The conditions of the Uyghurs forced to work in factories “strongly suggest forced labour”, Sam Bright reports

The Government has purchased face masks manufactured by a Chinese company that uses state-imposed Uyghur Muslim labour in its factories, Byline Times can reveal.

In July, The New York Times reported that Uyghur Muslims – a minority subject to widespread persecution in China including being put into detention camps where they are forced to undergo communist indoctrination – are being employed in the factories of medical suppliers under a Chinese Government labour programme.

The conditions of workers enrolled in this programme “strongly suggest forced labour”, a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) found.

One of the companies investigated by The New York Times is Medwell Medical Products, which has a factory in Fenglin Town, Jiangxi Province. It reports that Uyghur Muslims make up 25% of the workforce, while satellite imagery suggests that they have separate living quarters. When The New York Times contacted the firm, an employee claimed that no Uyghurs worked for Medwell.

The Uyghurs at the firm are also “surrounded by Government indoctrination”, The New York Times reports, being forced to take mandatory Mandarin classes three times a week. Indeed, the Chinese state has embarked on a systematic programme of indoctrination of the Uyghurs – an ethnic group based largely in the north-west territory of Xinjiang. This has involved the detention of millions of Uyghurs in nearly 400 internment camps across the region.

Medwell Medical Products is a large manufacturer of masks – claiming to have received orders for 20 million by the beginning of April – and distributes its products across Europe.

Now, it has been revealed that the Government has purchased Medwell masks for its pandemic stockpile. In late October, Lord David Alton asked the Government whether companies awarded contracts for the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) have sourced from Medwell.

Responding earlier this week, junior health minister Lord James Bethell said that the Government had not entered into an agreement directly with Medwell, but that it had purchased equipment manufactured by the company.

“Investigation of stocks of PPE received from suppliers at the central distribution warehouse for PPE in Daventry show a record of receiving PPE masks produced by Medwell Medical Products,” Lord Bethell said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social told Byline Times: “We expect all suppliers to the NHS to follow the highest legal and ethical standards and proper due diligence is carried out for all Government contracts. We have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect our health and social care staff on the frontline, with over 4.6 billion PPE items delivered so far.”

In the scramble to procure PPE during the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Government awarded contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds to firms with supply chains in China – a country that was leading the global manufacture of PPE.

The owner of P1F Medical – a company that has supplied roughly £60 million worth of PPE to the Government – says it took advantage of its contacts in China, forged through the country’s Belt and Road Initiative. “Those factories were almost like fish markets in how other countries and other companies were trying to negotiate,” its owner, Naveen Anandakumar, told Byline Times.

However, in the rush to deliver equipment to NHS workers – many of whom were dying from the Coronavirus – it appears as though some due diligence checks on the source of the goods were neglected.

China has been internationally condemned for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, with some calling it a genocide. In an effort to stamp out Uyghur culture and impose a mono-ethnic Chinese state, swathes of people have been arrested, jailed or interned. The individuals targeted have in many cases been put through religious and cultural re-education, as the Chinese Government tries to modify their beliefs. In this vein, Uyghurs are encouraged to assimilate into to the dominant Han Chinese culture, with money offered to those who enter into an inter-racial marriage.

However, the UK Government’s stance towards Uyghur persecution has lacked direction and force. Although Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stated that China has committed “gross and egregious” human rights abuses, the Boris Johnson administration has taken little tangible action. As a result, in mid-October, a group of MPs called on the UK to mirror the United States by passing a law that would allow the country to sanction Chinese officials involved in the human rights abuses.

The US is also considering a law to ban imports linked to forced Uyghur labour. “Tragically, the products of the forced labour often end up here in American stores and homes,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on 22 September. “We must shine a light on the inhumane practice of forced labour, hold the perpetrators accountable and stop this exploitation. And we must send a clear message to Beijing: these abuses must end now.”


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