The Labour Party has issued a stern warning to Downing Street that it must ensure that its NHS personal protective equipment (PPE) is not sourced from Xinjiang firms that illegally employ forced workers. Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade Emily Thornberry sent a detailed letter to the recently appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid. The former requested that Javid not award a 5 billion pounds NHS contract to companies that have alleged connections with Uyghur forced labour. 
In the letter, which has been shared with The Guardian, Thornberry – a former human rights lawyer of 20 years – writes:
“As you will be aware, evidence has emerged in recent years of the widespread and systematic use of forced labour against China’s Uyghur population in the factories, farms and prison camps of Xinjiang region, and of the forced transport of Uyghurs to carry out similar work in other regions under the Chinese state’s so-called labour transfer programme.” 
The MP for Islington South and Finsbury further adds:
“…just as that is no excuse for the lucrative contracts awarded to government cronies with no experience of producing or providing PPE, nor is it an excuse for ignoring the risks that forced labour is being used overseas to manufacture the supplies required by the NHS.” 
The coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak devastation in the UK and around the world. The government has had to dig deep, and in the process has spent more than 370 billion pounds in total emergency spending to date. Of that eye-watering sum, as of May 2021 it is reported that some 32 billion units of PPE had been ordered by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). However, of these 32 billion units, only 11 billion have been distributed thus far. 
Remember those warnings that the CPTPP could end up as a back door to a trade deal with China? That’s who the government is talking about here. But don’t worry: Liz Truss won’t support them if they don’t meet the rules on free and fair trade. The Uighur Genocide? Not an issue. pic.twitter.com/D95IDEL492
— Emily Thornberry (@EmilyThornberry) June 22, 2021
Thornberry noted that since the tenders for contracts on gowns, gloves, masks, eye protectors, and other PPE are to close at the end of the month, Javid must exercise his due diligence before completing any transactions. As Thornberry bluntly states, “you have little over a week to decide how you will tackle the issue of forced labour”. 
“We cannot be in a position where the government will start to hand out £11bn in new PPE contracts in just over a week’s time, but with no lessons whatsoever learned from last time round, whether in terms of who that money is going to or how the equipment is getting produced.” 
A spokesperson for the DHSC sought to defend the government’s record on PPE procurement, saying in a statement: “We have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect our health and social care staff on the frontline, with over 12.7bn PPE items delivered so far.” 
The DHSC representative also added:
“Proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts and all suppliers appointed to our frameworks must comply with the Labour Standards Assurance System which upholds robust rules to prevent abuses of labour.
“All our suppliers are required to follow the highest legal and ethical standards and, if they fail to do so, they are removed from consideration for future contracts.” 
Sajid Javid, the current Health Secretary, has assumed his post for a mere two months after his predecessor Matt Hancock bowed out disgracefully following his breach of COVID-19 restrictions. In addition to violating the regulations in place, Hancock was caught having an affair with aide and former university classmate Gina Coladangelo, which was brought to the public’s attention when CCTV images were leaked to the press in June.
Javid’s previous ministerial briefs include heading the Home Department, the Chancellorship of the Exchequer, as well as being Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport. He also assumed a number of other prior roles in finance and government economics. He was embroiled in a scandal when in 2019 he chose to visit the Buraq Wall in Jerusalem (referred to as the Western Wall by Jews and other non-Muslims). In so doing, Javid broke a two-decade long British governmental ruling regarding the city’s status. He also infuriated the Palestinian people, who argue that such visits are an attempt to legitimise false Israeli claims to the eastern half of Jerusalem. Despite being advised against visiting the Buraq Wall, Javid – who is a staunch advocate of ‘Israel’ and strongly opposes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) protest movement – ignored all words of advice. He later retorted during a Conservative Friends of Israel event in 2020: “You know what? I told them to ‘get stuffed’ and I went anyway.” 
Shaheer is a regular contributor for Islam21c. He maintains a strong interest in current affairs, as well as the changing global conditions of Muslim populations. Prior to joining Islam21c, he developed a number of years’ experience in the health and social care sector and has previously volunteered at the Muslim Youth Helpline.