Until now we’ve tended to look at ethics apart from human rights. We all know that there’s no such thing as a simple black-or-white situation in the world; and any ethical business needs to think carefully about all of its external linkages in supply chains, business partners and so on. Nevertheless, we’d be a load of ostriches if we tried to pretend that human rights as a topic has no bearing upon business ethics. Unfortunately, recent events leave us with no option but to give consideration to this matter.
One might have thought that with last year’s high-profile visit of Xi Jinping to the UK, now would be a better time than ever to do business with China. Think again. The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission is about to release a report, whose primary author is Benedict Rogers. (You may recognise his name – he’s the Southeast Asia Director for Christian Solidarity Worldwide.) The report will be entitled ‘The Darkest Moment: The Crackdown on Human Rights in China 2013-2016’. Dr Christopher Hancock is an experienced China scholar. He says about the forthcoming report that “In light of the dramatic reversal of government policy, some in China now speak of its having entered a Second Cultural Revolution.” He goes on to say “China per se is now as unworthy a trading partner as was South Africa under apartheid because it so generally restricts the freedoms of its intellectuals, media, religious communities, youth, dissenters, and citizens at large and harshly imposes old style totalitarian sanctions on (even minor) deviance.“ He adds “This report represents an important contribution to our understanding of China in 2016. For the British government not to take on board its findings would be as much a denial of academic honesty as it would an expression of political naivety and a loss of personal integrity. China is not what it was five years ago. It has undergone a 180-degree turn in its political ethos. Outsiders should not attempt – and will always fail – to change China’s political and social behaviour: however, British citizens can, and must, attempt to change their government’s hitherto mis-guided response to it.”
On this basis, therefore, I have to advise Business against Poverty’s members to regard any form of business link with China as unethical on the grounds that it supports known and very public human rights abuses. I hope that people will feel sufficiently motivated to write to Members of Parliament about the British Government’s approach to human rights in China.