Labor has written to Health Secretary Sajid Javid urging him to ensure that a new £ 5bn contract for NHS protective gear, including gowns and masks, is not attributed to companies involved in forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region.
Following earlier concerns over medical gloves for the NHS produced in Malaysia, where there have been consistent reports of forced labor in factories, Emily Thornberry called for an urgent response.
Considering tenders for contracts for gowns, masks, eye protection and other items, and the £ 6 billion contract for gloves will end at the end of August, “you have a little over a week to decide. how you are going to approach the issue of forced labor, “the shadow secretary for international trade wrote to Javid.
In the letter, seen by the Guardian, Thornberry acknowledged the challenge of procuring enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for health and care workers, especially during the pandemic.
She wrote: “However, just as this is no excuse for lucrative contracts awarded to government friends with no experience in the production or supply of PPE, neither is it an excuse to ignore the lawsuits. risks of forced labor being used overseas to manufacture supplies required by the NHS.
“As you know, evidence has emerged in recent years of the widespread and systematic use of forced labor against the Uyghur population of China in factories, farms and prison camps in the Xinjiang region, and of the forced transport of Uyghurs to perform similar work. in other regions under the so-called Chinese state labor transfer program.
Thornberry said it was important to find out whether NHS supplies of such PPE were linked to such forced labor, whether in terms of direct orders from Chinese companies or supplies from UK or European companies that used manufacturers in the country.
China is accused of systematic abuses against the Muslim Uyghur population of Xinjiang, in the far west of the country, including surveillance of the entire population, mass detention, forced labor and the systematic use of rape and sexual torture.
Last month, the US Senate passed a law banning the importation of products from Xinjiang, while British lawmakers voted in April to declare China’s actions in the region to constitute genocide, a position the government does not not share.
Thornberry said: ‘We cannot be in a position where the government will start handing out £ 11 billion in new PPE contracts in just over a week, but without any lessons learned from the last time, that it’s in terms of who the money is going to, or how the equipment is produced.
The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs has been contacted for comment.