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The Procurement Bill is a chance for the UK to put its money where its mouth is on human rights

The Procurement Bill is a chance for the UK to put its money where its mouth is on human rights

Benedict Rogers, co-founder and Chief Executive | Hong Kong Watch

4 min read Partner content

Over the past few years, the world has watched as the Chinese Communist Party has become increasingly repressive.

This has been particularly evident in Hong Kong and Tibet, in the crackdown on civil society, media and religion across mainland China, and in Xinjiang. Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China, and democratic activists in Hong Kong have endured the sharp end of the ever-expanding surveillance state in China.

What differentiates the actions of the Chinese Government from previous dictatorships and genocidal states is how pervasive their control is and how it brings in the private sector as active participants.

Take the example of BGI Group – on the face of it, this company is a successful player in the genomics and healthcare space, founded by Chinese scientists to contribute to the Human Genome Project. Behind that though lies a company at the forefront of surveillance in China and an organisation whose subsidiaries have been blacklisted by the United States. BGI was found to serve as a "global collection mechanism for Chinese government genetic databases” by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) in the United States.

This is a company that was awarded a £10million COVID-19 testing contract by the UK Government and has been described by expert newsletter Beijing to Britain as “a company that has links to British universities, companies and institutions on a scale that would make Huawei blush”.

So, what can the United Kingdom do in the face of this rising authoritarianism and the companies which enable it?

The Procurement Bill before the Parliament is one such opportunity. An important part of the legislation would allow for the discretionary exclusion of companies implicated in human rights abuses, including BGI, Hikvision, Dahua, Hytera and others used by the Chinese state to oppress minorities.

In 2020/21 the UK spent £357 billion on procurement, even taking out COVID-related procurement, the government spent more than £300 billion. It has always been concerning that firms linked to human rights abuses receive this public money. For example, 31% of police services use Hikvision technology, 60.8% of all public bodies use Hikvision and Dahua surveillance tech; Nuctech, dubbed the “Huawei of border security”, has been given more than £12 million in security contracts; and the aforementioned BGI was granted a £10million COVID-19 testing contract, a place in the National Microbiology Framework and has extensive contracts with UK universities and public research institutes.

Those living in Hong Kong or Xinjiang or anyone facing oppression by the Chinese state should be able to look upon the UK as a beacon of liberty.  The UK Government should prove its commitment to human rights and freedom across the world by backing efforts to stop firms complicit in human rights abuses from ever again receiving money from UK taxpayers. It can be done as Sajid Javid showed by banning Hikvision from contracts with the Department for Health and Adult Social Care.  Parliamentarians and Ministers should also look at a timeline to remove Hikvision, Dahua and other problematic Chinese companies from the supply chain, similar to the removal of Huawei equipment.

Such a move would also be in the greatest tradition of the Conservative Party, who led the creation of the international human rights settlement and has been in the vanguard of free peoples and free societies across the world for centuries.

Benedict Rogers is the co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch

 

In response to the above article BGI have released the following statement:

BGI strongly refutes the allegations made by Mr. Benedict Rogers in The House Magazine. BGI Group does not engage in unethical practices and does not provide gene technology for the surveillance of minorities. BGI Group does not condone such activity and has never been involved in any human rights abuses.

Mr. Rogers’ article relies on factually inaccurate information about BGI originating from a report from the NSCAI. The report in question does not provide any evidence and credits as its source media reports. The same media quote anonymous government officials and subsequently the NSCAI, creating circular referencing. There is no evidence to substantiate Mr. Rogers’ claims, and BGI has refuted this inaccurate information on several occasions.

BGI Group is a globally renowned and respected life science organization and has made vital contributions to world health research and development through our scientific research and medical technology solutions.

 

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