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Firms under growing pressure to protect against forced labour

Pressure is growing on companies to map and remove elements of their supply chain that may be implicated in human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region of China, as well as closer to home.

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In a statement to Parliament in March, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described mounting evidence of forced labour of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time”.

The crisis has set off alarm bells in a range of industries that depend heavily on products and materials from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The textiles supply chain is particularly at risk, with around 80 per cent of the cotton produced in China - approximately 16 per cent of global supply - coming from the region.

However, textiles is by no means the only industry affected. According to the Ethical Trading Initiative, other sectors believed to be at high risk include food products, industrial ingredients, automobile manufacture and electronics.

Institutional investors and NGOs are asking potentially implicated companies and brands to map and disclose information about their supply chains, as well as disengage with suppliers linked to the region.

The UK government has also recently announced measures to reduce the risk of British businesses being complicit in human rights violations. This includes a detailed guide for businesses, setting out the specific risks faced by companies with links to Xinjiang.

How to identify modern slavery risks in your supply chain

Action to prevent modern slavery abuses is also taking place within the UK. In March, fashion brand Boohoo announced that it had cut the number of suppliers it works within Leicester by over 400 following an intensive audit of its supply chain.

The company said it had ceased doing business with manufacturers who were “unable to demonstrate the high standard of transparency required”, adding that it was committed to growing volumes with trusted and compliant suppliers who can demonstrate a desire to deliver high standards.

GC Business Growth Hub is now running quarterly online workshops to help Greater Manchester SMEs identify risks in their own supply chains.

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