Federal government takes action to isolate Canadian businesses from human rights abuses in China

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The federal government today announced a series of new regulations designed to ensure that Canadian businesses are not complicit in human rights abuses or the use of forced labor in China’s Xinjiang Province.
The measures include new requirements for companies doing business in the region and a commitment to ban the export of products from Canada to China if there is any chance that they can be used by Chinese authorities to for the purpose of surveillance, repression, arbitrary detention or forced labor.

“Canada is deeply concerned about the mass arbitrary detention and mistreatment inflicted on Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities by the Chinese authorities,” Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne said in a statement shortly before leaving the department to become the new Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.

“No one should be subjected to ill-treatment because of their religion or ethnicity,” added Champagne.

The steps taken today represent the strongest steps ever taken by Canada in the face of growing international criticism from the Chinese government over its policies in Xinjiang – but they stop before imposing “Magnitsky sanctions” on Chinese officials – this demanded by a parliamentary committee that concluded China’s actions meet the definition of genocide.

Forced labor, arbitrary detention

UN experts and activists claim that over a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and others have been arbitrarily detained in prison-like centers for political indoctrination. China says the centers aim to combat extremism and teach professional skills, but former residents and rights groups say they target Islam and minority languages ​​and cultures.

A coalition of civil society organizations also accused China of forcing hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other minorities to hand-pick cotton. The vast western province produces 85% of Chinese cotton and 20% of the world’s supply, which is sold to fashion brands around the world.

The Center for Global Policy, a Washington-based think tank, found in a December 2020 report that a significant portion of Xinjiang’s cotton was highly likely to be “tainted with forced labor.”

Workers walk along the fence of what is officially known as a vocational training center in Dabancheng, in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (Thomas Peter / Reuters)

Canada already bans the importation of goods produced by forced labor as part of its obligations under the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), Global Affairs Canada said in a press release.

The new regulations also require Canadian companies operating in the Xinjiang market to sign a statement acknowledging that they are aware of the human rights situation in the province and committing to due diligence with Chinese suppliers. to ensure that they do not knowingly source products or services from companies that use forced labor.

Global Affairs Canada has also issued a Business Advisory warning Canadian businesses of the legal and reputational risks they face in maintaining supply chains associated with forced labor.

The new measures were announced in conjunction with similar measures taken by the UK, although this government has promised to impose financial penalties on companies that do not comply – which does not appear to be part of the approach. from Canada.

Last fall, the House of Commons international human rights subcommittee released a report declaring that China’s persecution of this Muslim minority is a blatant human rights violation and aims to “eradicate culture and religion. Uyghur ”. China’s Foreign Ministry responded, accusing the committee of spreading lies and disinformation.

Canada exported $ 23 billion in goods to China and imported $ 75 billion in 2019.

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