With the events of this last year, the G7 summit taking place this weekend has an unsurprisingly packed agenda. With Johnson trying to stake out a ‘Global Britain’ by being at the forefront of a worldwide vaccination programme, and attempting to lay the groundwork for a potential global climate agreement at the COP 26 summit this autumn, Merkel looking to push Johnson on the Northern Ireland protocol, and Biden pushing a somewhat unpopular agenda on waiving patents on Covid vaccines, there are already multiple competing agendas going into this 47th meeting. But, aside from Covid-19, the G7 must focus on addressing their complicity in the ongoing human rights abuses occurring in Xinjiang and within global supply chains.
Knowledge of the human rights abuses occurring in Xinjiang, China, is hardly new. Initially reported in mainstream media in 2018, and increasingly described as a genocide since the Associated Press revealed the systematic nature of sterilisation, abortion, and forced labour in June 2020, the international community has been inactive and ineffective to the extent of complicit. Despite clear evidence, the CCP continues to insist that the Uighur camps are necessary ‘vocational training’ to counter radicalism and separatism. By its own admission, what distinguishes the G7 from other international bodies are each country’s shared values as ‘open, democratic and outward-looking societies.’ This distinction loses significant meaning if the member states continue to ignore their tacit acceptance of China and other trading partner’s human rights violations.
It is the interlinkage between these abuses and global trade that both places G7 states in somewhat of a political straightjacket and makes the issues so relevant to address. China is seen as too economically important and too powerful to take bold action against; the UK, for example, has one third of its electricity generation reliant on firms owned by China. The G7 foreign ministers summit in May perfectly summarised the ineffective caution exercised by world leaders over this issue, refusing to set out any concrete steps of confrontation amid concerns over economic reprisals. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) has now called on the G7 to take action to reform global supply chains in light of these abuse issues. The IPAC includes parliamentarians from Canada, the European Parliament, Japan, the USA, and the UK. Their call, for the G7 to establish bans on imports of goods produced by forced labour and to establish minimum standards of transparency for companies operating in areas at known risk of forced labour, is timely. Tesco has recently admitted to finding labour abuses in its Indian garment supply chain, whilst German lawmakers have agreed on an overdue supply chain bill seeking to combat human and environmental abuses. Meanwhile the independent ‘Uighur Tribunal’ has begun in London with descriptions of Uighurs being put in ‘tiger chains’ and forced to work.
If the G7 wishes to retain its credibility as the leaders of the ‘free world’, and achieve its goal to ‘Build Back Better’ and create a ‘greener, more prosperous future’, then these clear violations must be addressed. It is incredibly unlikely any member will favour a full trade embargo, it is neither economically nor politically expedient. But as China becomes increasingly politically opaque, it becomes paramount that the group draws a clear line in the sand, taking firm action on human rights not just in China but across the world.