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By Christina Georgaki
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The UK must stop purchasing healthcare equipment from states accused of genocide

4 min read

We have laid an all-party amendment which will shortly be considered at the report stage of the Health and Care Bill. Our proposal is designed to ensure that future NHS procurement policies take into account the origins of the vast quantities of goods which are purchased at huge public expense and some of which originate in states accused by our Foreign Secretary and the House of Commons of committing genocide.

Although our amendment does not name the People’s Republic of China, we clearly have it in our sights. By summer last year the UK had bought one billion lateral flow tests from China and the gravy train of Covid-related public purchases has sped ever onwards. In total we have bought a staggering 24.1 billion PPE items which have originated in China – including 10.7 million gloves.

When we ask government what this has all cost we receive stalling answers that the sum is “commercially sensitive”. Balderdash. As zip go the billions, taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.

But this goes beyond the costs to the public purse and the importance of accountability and transparency. We have both consistently raised the evisceration of our UK manufacturing capacity, our over-dependency on trade with China and the failure to build up self-reliance. We have regularly pointed out that if a country uses slave labour to produce its goods, it’s always going to undercut and out compete home based manufacturers – often putting UK manufacturers out of business.

Our modest amendment cannot deal with all of this but at least it can draw a line by insisting that where there are credible reports of genocide, we have no business oiling the wheels of the gravy train. The UK boasts that it champions the 1948 Convention on the Crime of Genocide and that we are leading the world in the fight against modern slavery. But hundreds of millions of pounds of public money is poured into the pockets of companies profiting from Uyghur forced labour in Xinjiang. We note that in January the U.S. enacted bipartisan legislation, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, banning all imports from Xinjiang province unless it can be proven that they are slavery-free.

Our amendment is modest by comparison, but it would be illegal for the Government to procure health service equipment from any regions in the world where they believe there to be “a serious risk of genocide”. That is a very high bar. But the products we buy should not be tainted by genocide. If companies such as Marks & Spencer can do it for their clothes supply chain, we can too.

The amendment leaves the assessment of “serious risk of genocide” to the Government and allows broad scope for the Government to define a process surrounding these risk assessments through regulations. In short, it is a very reasonable amendment.

Under the Genocide Convention our duty to take action arises “at the instant” we become aware of a “serious risk” of genocide. That was determined in the International Court of Justice’s Bosnia v Serbia judgment in 2007. Those obligations arise at the instant we learn of a serious risk of genocide – and in the case of the Uyghurs we are in grave danger of being derelict in discharging our duties.

Just before Christmas the independent Uyghur Tribunal concluded that a genocide is under way in Xinjiang. It found “beyond reasonable doubt that the People’s Republic of China … is guilty of genocide”. The Tribunal determined that biological genocide is occurring through restriction of births by forced sterilisation and abortion, segregation of sexes within the detention centres, and forced matrimony and procreation between Uyghur women and Han men. Furthermore, mutilation and biological experiments take place in the detention centres.

The link with NHS procurement has been known for some time. The Daily Telegraph reported: “Ministers handed almost £150m to Chinese firms with links to alleged human rights abuses in Xingang amid a race for PPE after Covid hit.”

Our duty is to combat, and not to collaborate in, genocide, and our duty is also to protect the NHS from exploitation and profiteering. We know that around one in five cotton garments sold globally contain cotton or yarn from Xinjiang, and the region also manufactures a significant amount of the world’s polysilicon to make solar panels and smartphones.

Our amendment is proportionate. It defies the lobbyists who seek to subvert the intention of Parliament; it puts power back into the hands of Parliament and the Secretary of State; it ensures integrity in our procurement policies; it protects the NHS from the taint of association with genocide or slave labour; and it creates a framework and timescale for taking action.

For many reasons the Covid pandemic has been a sorry period but making the UK taxpayer complicit in the persecution of Uighurs through PPE procurement must be one of the sorriest. Lifesaving must not be dependent on life-taking.

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