Government Minister, (Diana) Baroness Barran, promises that the Government will tackle the continued exploitation of some of the most vulnerable in our supply chains. If the Government shows it really does mean business in tackling companies which give business a bad name, it will deserve praise and support.
During the parliamentary debate on the Telecommunications Bill on Monday evening the Government gave a very welcome assurance that they intend to deal with the failure of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act to adequately safeguard men, women and children being used as slave labour in many parts of the world. Too often, companies claim that they do not use slave labour when, within their supply chains, there is plenty of evidence that they have benefited from slave labour.
Baroness Barran said:
“First, a number of noble Lords raised the point about companies needing to do the right thing. Of course the companies that we are talking about are in compliance with the Modern Slavery Act and Section 54 but, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, knows better than probably the rest of us put together, there are problems and issues with the teeth of Section 54; that is, in a way, at the heart of his amendment and will be at the heart of our response to the consultation later this summer.”
The parliamentary debate focused on the plight of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang being “re-educated” by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in slave labour camps.
Within their supply chains, telecommunications companies like Huawei are either beneficiaries or even willing to partner with the CCP by providing their surveillance equipment to deprive the Uighurs of their freedoms.
But its’ not just in Xinjiang.
The same is true in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo where young children are used in cobalt mines
UNICEF estimates that about 40,000 boys and girls work as artisanal miners in southern DRC, many of who extract cobalt. Some artisanal miners use chisels and other hand tools to dig holes tens of metres deep, often without any permit. Others handpick rocks rich in cobalt ore at the surface.
This leads to frequent illness – with cobalt dust causing the potentially fatal hard metal lung disease and skin contact causing dermatitis. They aren’t even given mask or gloves and are forced to work up to 12 hours a day for as little as a dollar a day.
Child labour mines the cobalt – and cobalt is what powers our telephones.
Cobalt is a key component of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and in late 2019 some of the globe’s leading brands – Apple, Alphabet (parent company of Google LLC), Microsoft, Dell and Tesla became ensnared in a legal action from the families of children killed or injured while mining. They have all declined to say whether their supply chains are tainted by slave labour.
The Arise Foundation has tirelessly campaigned to change the law so that companies are held to account. https://www.arisefdn.org/give-your-time
If the Government really does intend to show it means business in dealing with companies which give business a bad name it will truly be able to claim that its Modern Slavery Legislation is not a slogan but worthy to be called world class cutting edge legislation.