Press release: 8 July 2020
UK telecom companies and their ties with Chinese communications giant Huawei are coming under the spotlight from Uyghur activists who claim that evidence indicates that the company is implicated in gross human rights abuses.
Lawyers for Uyghur Rights, (LfUR) a group championing Uyghur rights in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (also known as East Turkestan) which is also campaigning against Huawei's bid to be part of the UK's 5G network on civil liberties grounds, have written to the seven major UK telecommunications providers urging them to abide by their own policies against modern slavery and human rights abuses and thoroughly review their ties with the company in the light of allegations against it.
Representing two British Uyghurs, Rahima Mahmut, head of the World Uyghur Congress’s London office and Enver Tohti Bughda, an activist and member of the International Advisory Committee of the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China, the legal team headed by London barrister Michael Polak and leading human rights solicitor Oliver Carter of Irwin Mitchell law firm are holding the providers to account for their use of Huawei infrastructure and its products following the exposure of evidence showing its complicity in the persecution of Uyghurs.
"There is evidence that Huawei’s is deeply implicated in the ongoing surveillance, repression and persecution of the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim communities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (East Turkestan)," states Mr Polak. “Their treatment undoubtedly amounts to crimes against humanity prohibited under international law”. "There is also evidence that there is slavery or forced labour within their supply chain," he added. He cited a recent report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) which has produced strong evidence that Huawei has been involved in creating a surveillance state in the Uyghur heartland and whose supply chain been associated with the forceable transfer of thousands of Uyghurs to work in electronics factories in inner China.
"This is in direct breach of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights," he said.
Mr Polak points out that these companies which already use Huawei infrastructure for their network and stock and sell Huawei products, would be guilty in continuing to support this company and by using Huawei infrastructure if the Government decides to allow Huawei to provide 5G infrastructure in the United Kingdom.
Each of the telecoms companies cited, Vodafone, EE, Three, Virgin Media, BT, O2, TalkTalk, have comprehensive anti-modern slavery policies in place as well as statements setting out their human rights credentials. Virgin Media claims to have a "zero tolerance approach to modern slavery," which "expects all suppliers to meet the disclosure requirements under the Modern Slavery Act 2015," and to ensure all suppliers carry out due diligence to ensure there is no slavery or trafficking in their operations and supply chains, or association "with any group that supports acts of violence, terrorism or discrimination."
In Vodafone’s comprehensive Human Rights Policy they state that wherever they operate they ‘contribute to the wealth and development of countries, regions and local communities in a way that advances the protection and promotion of a number of fundamental human rights and freedoms’ and they expect their ‘suppliers and business partners to uphold the same standards’. They also pledge to ‘seek ways to honour the principles of internationally recognised human rights, even when faced with conflicting requirements’ and that they will ‘not tolerate forced, bonded or compulsory labour within [their] supply chain.’ They claim that their ‘human rights due diligence approach is aligned with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.’
EE guarantees to "only want to work with people who choose to work freely, with rights to equal opportunity, freedom of association, and collective bargaining," and according to its Ethical Charter, clearly prohibits any form of forced labour, modern slavery, bonded or involuntary prison labour. All suppliers are expected to apply these principles throughout their spheres of responsibility.
BT's Modern Slavery Statement 2018/2019 declares that all direct suppliers are required to implement its Sourcing with Human Dignity policy throughout every level of the supply chain. It boasts on-site assessments to facilitate understanding as to how well the supplier has implemented the standards and what the impact has been on their workers.
THREE claims, "If we were to find evidence that one of our suppliers has failed to comply with the Modern Slavery Act 2015 we would require the supplier to provide a remediation plan and we would consider the future of our relationship." Similarly, O2 eschews forced labour, child labour, threats, coercion, abuse, violence or intimidation within its operations or supply chain. "Where suppliers are found to be in breach of our policies we will require them to make improvements and if they fail to do so, may elect to terminate our engagement with the supplier in question."
TalkTalk states, "We will not support or work with any business knowingly involved in modern slavery or human trafficking." It promises that failure to meet its standards, will be met with an action plan for improvement, failure to act on which may incur sanctions or the "termination of the relationship." Its Modern Slavery statement of 2020, states that “Modern slavery is completely unacceptable in any shape or form."
In the Modern Slavery Statement of Telefonica UK, 02’s parent company claims that they are ‘committed to making sure modern slavery does not exist in [their] operations or supply chain’ and ‘ to use [their] influence to increase transparency on key issues such as protecting vulnerable workers and preventing human rights violations’.
The complaint about Huawei is that there is evidence that Huawei is “deeply implicated in the ongoing surveillance, repression and persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minority communities in Xinjiang” and also evidence that there is slavery within Huawei’s supply chain. This evidence comes from reports by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a reputable non-governmental organisation which uses native Chinese speakers to evaluate the available evidence. These conclusions were confirmed by renowned China scholar Dr Adrian Zenz who provided an assessment which has been sent to the telecoms providers in which he concludes that ‘Huawei is directly implicated in the Beijing police state and related human rights violations in Xinjiang, and that it has lied to the public about this fact on at least two different occasions.’
Given the evidence implicating Huawei in modern day slavery, and crimes against humanity and the telecom provider’s commitment to human rights, LfUR is calling on them to reconsider their relationship with Huawei. It is pressing for transparency between the companies and Huawei over the implementation of their Supply Partner Codes of Conduct and transparency between the companies and the public as to whether the evidence of the facilitation of crimes against humanity and slave labour within Huawei’s supply chains means that this is a company with whom they they can no longer continue to conduct business, according to their own policies. LfUR has asked the companies to confirm whether, despite this evidence, they would contract with Huawei for the provision of 5G infrastructure or to continue to contract with Huawei for the provision of handsets.
We are happy to accommodate any media requests. To arrange please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Michael Polak on 0741 519 1591
Notes to Editors
Lawyer for Uyghur Rights, www.lawyersforuyghurrights.com is a group made up of barristers, solicitors, paralegals, academics, and students who are working together to develop strategies to combat the mass oppression and atrocities being carried of the Uyghur people and other Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (East Turkestan) The organisation is chaired by Michael Polak.
Michael Polak is a barrister practising in both international and domestic human rights law as well as criminal law defence. He practises from Church Court Chambers in London and is a Director of Justice Abroad (www.justiceabroad.co.uk). He is chair of Lawyer for Uyghur Rights and works closely with the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur community.
Oliver Carter is a solicitor in the Public Law & Human Rights team at Irwin Mitchell, specialising in judicial review, health and social care, inquests and actions against the police. In July 2019, he received a Legal Aid Practitioners Group Special Award for making an exceptional contribution to legal aid and access to justice at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards.
Dr Aris Georgopoulos is Assistant Professor in European and Public Law at the School of Law, University of Nottingham and Head of the Research Unit for Stra-tegic and Defence Procurement of the Public Procure¬ment Research Group (PPRG). He has been a Global Governance Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS) of the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, and a Grotius Fel¬low at the Law School of the University of Michigan and has acted as expert advisor to national authorities, international organisations and institutions (such as the OECD, the World Bank, the European Central Bank, The European Court of Auditors and USAID)