Now that we are out of the European Union, and having belatedly concluded what our Trade Minister called the easiest deal in human history, we are free to seek business throughout the world, our sharp-eyed entrepreneurs set loose to stravaig the globe – tracking down bargains, opportunities, finding new markets and expanding the old, parleying with sheiks and dictators, and greasing the palms of the go-betweens.
But for the ethical consumer some of the countries we do most business with, or are keen to seal deals with, have hideous human rights records. Ours isn’t so clean in retrospect, but now we’re becoming a minor power the scope of our abuse has declined.
A colleague has vowed to boycott Chinese goods over the country’s treatment of Uighur Muslims, but where to go instead in good conscience and to send the economic message that abuse won’t be tolerated? It looks like an unanswerable question.
Here, then, is list of countries we presently do business with and are keen to do more, a Top 10 of abusers, in no particular order of bestiality.
We sell them tanks, planes and implements of torture so they can better subjugate their own people, notably women, and bomb innocent civilians with our weaponry and guidance systems in Yemen. They also sponsor Islamist terror groups, but that’s not the kind of thing you discuss over an alcohol-free trade negotiation with a Saudi royal. And with more than 15,000 of them on the payroll that’s a lot of dinners and bribes.
The UK Government warns that Sharia law rules – hands cut off, beheadings – and other laws are enforced only “if they don’t violate the rules of sharia. Unlike in common law jurisdictions, legal judgments are not published so there are no binding precedents”. We import oceans of oil to keep cars running and power stations turning over so we’re probably not going to shiver out of principle.
THERE is a consumer boycott in place against the country and it seems to be having an effect. We import fruit and vegetables from them, often mislabelled as Israeli goods when they come from the territories forcibly and illegally occupied since 1967. The Gaza Strip has also been blockaded for 12 years, restricting the movement of people and goods and, as as result, 80 per cent of the population depend on humanitarian aid. Collective punishment is outlawed under the Geneva conventions, which seemed to have gone unnoticed.
EGYPT has allied with Israel to enforce the Gaza blockade. The country is, of course, effectively a military junta since the coup d’état in 2013. Since 2017, it has maintained a nationwide state of emergency that gives security forces unchecked powers. They use torture and enforced disappearances systematically against dissidents from all backgrounds and with impunity.
Children have even been given death sentences in military trials.
And obviously there’s no freedom of assembly or of speech while laws against domestic violence are rarely imposed and female genital mutilation is still widespread. We get oil from Egypt, fruit and veg, and the cotton sheets you probably sleep well on.
THE Narendra Modi government continues to harass and persecute journalists and humans-rights advocates. In August 2019, his Hindu nationalist BJP government revoked the semi-autonomous states of Jammu and Kashmir, locked up dissidents and imposed a curfew. A special powers act gives soldiers effective immunity from prosecution for serious human rights abuses.
In 2019, the government of Assam produced a national register of citizens, excluding two million who had lived there for years, most of them Muslim. In November last year 250 million Indians joined a general strike. The strike by tens of thousands of farmers has been going on since December. Trade between the UK and India is worth more than £24 billion as year – we buy oil, vegetable oil, precious stones, machinery – and India is the second-largest investor in the UK economy.
WOMEN, religious minorities, and transgender people continue to face violence, discrimination and persecution, with authorities failing to provide adequate protection or hold perpetrators accountable. Hundreds of people have been arrested over blasphemy allegations, most of them members of religious minorities. The death penalty is mandatory for blasphemy. Remarkably, Pakistan’s penal code carries the death penalty for at least 33 crimes. More than 4,000 prisoners are on death row, according to Amnesty. Our largest import from Pakistan is textiles and clothing, made by workers on poverty wages.
CHANCES are you have a garment n your cupboard made in a sweat shop in Bangladesh (and that favourite Indian restaurant is most probably Bangladeshi). The ruling Awami League government has been accused of ignoring abuses by security forces, including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings which remain widespread. It also continues to violate international standards on freedom of speech in its crackdown on government critics, and you most certainly won’t be watching a bit of titillation or political criticism on the internet because it’s censored. Still, at least women no longer have to declare whether they are virgins on their marriage certificate.
THAT washing machine or dishwasher in the kitchen may well have come from there – if it’s a Beko it will have. Turkey also sells us vehicles, Transits, as well as iron and steel. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has virtually unchecked power. Executive control and political influence over the judiciary has led to courts systematically accepting bogus indictments, detaining and convicting without compelling evidence of criminal activity mostly individuals and groups the Erdogan government regards as political opponents.
Turkey also invaded northeast Syria in an attempt to root out Kurdish forces controlled by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Thousands remain in prison, on remand or convicted, over alleged PKK links.
WE import more than £500 million worth of goods, largely machinery. President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” has encouraged police and security agents to kill thousands of suspects.
State security forces and government-backed paramilitaries continue to harass, threaten, arbitrarily arrest, and attack and kill political activists, environmentalists, community leaders, and journalists.
The Philippine Congress failed in 2019 to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. One of the world’s best pound-for-pound boxers is also a senator. Manny Pacquiao is trying to reintroduce the death penalty.
PARK the Honda, throw out the Panasonic TV because the land of the rising sun is no sunshine state. Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers given visas to do jobs the Japanese won’t do have been subject to human-rights violations, including payment of sub-minimum wages, illegal overtime, forced return of whistleblowers to their home countries, and dangerous or unhygienic working conditions. They are also bound to their sponsoring employers without being able to go to another.
Japanese criminal procedure law continues to allow suspects to be detained for up to 23 days prior to prosecution – dubbed the “hostage law”.
THE US is our biggest trading partner and we import more than $125bn of its products, from computers to machinery and precious metals to gems – plus a good few pairs of blue jeans. Soon it will also be chlorine-hosed chicken.
But abuses? Where to begin, from separating kids from their parents at the borders; maintaining the federal death penalty (executed against a woman last week); inciting disorder; praising white supremacists; describing the media as “the enemy of the people”; cosying up to dictators; tearing up environmental measures; weakening the ability of Americans to get health insurance; and jailing more people than any other nation on Earth and where children are still prosecuted in adult criminals courts in all 50 states. It’s the American way.
Much of this may have been pushed by the Trump administration but at least he didn’t start any new wars, his supporters say. Unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, who presided over a war for every day of his eight-year tenure.
Joe Biden’s choices, with weel-kent faces from that one, is looking like a groundhog day administration.
That’s also a lot of boycotting.