Trudeau warns Canadian companies in China to avoid using forced labour

Security guards stand at the gates of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Huocheng County in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 3, 2018.

THOMAS PETER/REUTERS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says government officials will contact Canadian companies doing business in China’s Xinjiang region to warn them against using forced labour or engaging in other human-rights abuses.

Mr. Trudeau told reporters Tuesday that the outreach will include three publicly traded Canadian resource companies that have active projects and plans in Xinjiang, where authorities have locked up large numbers of China’s mostly Muslim Uyghur minority in political indoctrination and so-called “skills training” camps.

The Globe and Mail reported Monday that renewable energy giant Canadian Solar Inc. (CSIQ-Q) and a pair of junior mining companies, Dynasty Gold Corp. (DYG-X) and GobiMin Inc. (GMN-X), continue to operate in the northwestern region.

“We will continue to work very, very closely and follow up with the companies you named, and all companies that have investments in that area, to ensure they are following Canadian values and Canadian law,” Mr. Trudeau said when asked at a news conference about the three firms.

“We are working with Canadian companies, all Canadian companies, to ensure that they are not benefiting from, or profiting, from these human-rights abuses,” he added.

The three companies were not immediately available for comment.

The Prime Minister said he has been “increasingly concerned” about reports of China’s use of forced labour and that he has personally raised the issue in conversations with Chinese leaders and at multilateral conferences.

He noted that Canada took new steps last week to discourage any company from profiting from forced labour in Xinjiang, asking those operating in the region to review their employment practices and threatening to deny diplomatic help and export loans to violators. It is illegal in Canada to import products made with forced labour.

However, trade lawyers and human-rights advocates say Canada’s actions are more style than substance, lacking substantial penalties for non-compliance.

The U.S. Department of Commerce, by comparison, has been publishing the names of Chinese companies or entities that Washington deems “complicit in human-rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labour and high-technology surveillance” against minority groups in Xinjiang.

In one of the final actions of the Trump administration, the State Department declared Tuesday that the Chinese government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity through its use of internment camps and forced sterilization.

Last fall, MPs on a parliamentary committee said China had committed genocide against its Uyghur minority and urged the Canadian government to recognize it as such. It also called for sanctions against Chinese officials.

The statement from the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights came shortly after China’s envoy to Canada warned parliamentarians against describing the mass detention and abuse of Uyghurs as genocide.

The committee called the Chinese detention facilities concentration camps and urged the Canadian government to work with allies to help international observers gain access to the camps.

Canadian companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the region in the past two decades, according to a foreign government analysis obtained by The Globe. The Globe is not identifying the source of the analysis because they were not authorized to release the document publicly. Such investments in energy and mining projects have made Canada one of the top five foreign investors in Xinjiang, according to the document, which tracks 20 years of spending.

The Chinese government has said it is fighting religious extremism in Xinjiang by guiding wayward souls toward modern thinking.

Human-rights groups say the treatment of people in the region has been so egregious that Western companies have an obligation to take a hard look at their operations there. “They shouldn’t be out there right now,” said Alex Gladstein, the chief strategy officer at the Human Rights Foundation. “The UN has said that the Chinese Communist Party is imprisoning millions of Uyghurs.”

Canadian Solar operates a 30-megawatt solar farm near Tumxuk, a small city on the fringes of the Taklamakan Desert, 175 kilometres from the border with Kyrgyzstan.

Tumxuk is home to a growing textile industry and a vocational training centre situated some five kilometres from the solar park. According to a local government document, the centre’s course of study includes skills instruction as well as 126 hours a year of “moral and practical” classes in subjects such as history and religious policy.

Vancouver-based Dynasty Gold lists its Qi2 Gold Mine in Hatu, a mining district in the northwest, as one of its pillar assets. The company owns 70 per cent of the property, with a further 30 per cent held by a local state-owned enterprise, Xinjiang Non-Ferrous Metals Group.

The Hatu project is located less than an hour’s drive from Karamay, where the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has identified six detention facilities – two of which have been used as “re-education” centres for political indoctrination and skills training. Dynasty did not respond to a detailed request for comment.

GobiMin is a Canadian penny stock company with offices in Montreal and Hong Kong. It has a 70-per-cent interest in a proposed Xinjiang gold mine, Sawayaerdun, which is located 200 kilometres north of Kashgar, one of the most heavily controlled cities in China. GobiMin has struggled with its investment in Xinjiang but is attempting to prove the viability of the project.

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