Thursday, December 10, 2020

Covid: Daily Mail gave NHS masks linked to Chinese Uighur factory


Covid: Daily Mail gave NHS masks linked to Chinese Uighur factory

image captionThe Mail Force campaign has donated face masks - similar to the one in this picture - to the NHS and care workers

Dec 9 2020

A charity set up by the Daily Mail to buy protective equipment for NHS staff donated 100,000 face masks suspected of being made by workers in a controversial Chinese labour programme.

The masks were flown in from China by the paper's Mail Force campaign, which was launched in April to buy PPE.

They were bought from Medwell Medical Products, a firm suspected of using Uighur Muslims in the labour scheme.

Mail Force said it had been unaware of allegations about Medwell at the time.

A spokesperson for the charity said: "The masks in question represent 0.2% of the 42 million items of PPE we delivered to the UK. We are implacably opposed to forced labour of any kind."

'Re-education camps'

In April, amid reports of PPE shortages in the UK, the Daily Mail newspaper and owners General Trust launched the Mail Force charity, to source and provide equipment for NHS and care workers.

The registered charity - which has a separate board of trustees - has since provided millions of items of PPE, as well as testing equipment to hospitals such as London's Great Ormond Street, as well as care homes, and charities such as Mencap.More than £11m has been donated by readers, the Daily Mail, partner businesses, and from the paper's owner, Viscount Rothermere

Just a few days after the charity was set up, it delivered 100,000 masks and 50,000 coveralls to NHS workers, bought through a third-party agent in China. The Daily Mail then published two videos showing reporters delivering boxes of PPE. The boxes of disposable masks are clearly marked "Medwell".

In fact, Medwell's factory, in the town of Fenglin, in Jiangxi province, eastern China, was identified by the New York Times in July as using suspected forced labour from the country's Uighur minority.

According to the paper, Uighur Muslims make up 25% of the workforce at the factory.

China is facing global political criticism over its alleged persecution of the Uighurs - a Muslim minority group that lives mostly in Xinjiang province, north-west China.

It is believed that the Chinese government has detained up to a million Uighurs over the past few years, in what the government defines as "re-education camps". China has also been accused of a programme of forced sterilisation against Uighur women.

Daventry warehouse

Medwell makes a variety of PPE and ships its products around the world, including to the US, where it is registered with the regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

At least some of the firm's masks have ended up at the NHS supply warehouse, based in Daventry, Northamptonshire, the centre from which the NHS supplies Britain's hospitals and care homes with PPE.

Earlier this month, health minister Lord Bethell confirmed an investigation of stocks at the warehouse did "show a record of receiving PPE masks produced by Medwell Medical Products".

NHS Supply Chain hub warehouse facility in DaventryIMAGE COPYRIGHTMINISTRY OF DEFENCE (MOD) / CROWN COPYRIGHT

The BBC understands that those masks were supplied by the Mail Force charity.

The Department of Health and Social Care said: "These masks were donated through an intermediary and only represent a tiny proportion of the overall PPE supplied. The masks have been removed entirely from the distribution chain.

"We expect all suppliers to the NHS to follow the highest legal and ethical standards and proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts."

A spokesperson for the Mail Force charity added: "Working with relevant government departments, we ensured that all items met the relevant procurement standards.

"Every batch was approved by Department of Health inspectors prior to being bought and prior to delivery. Despite this, we became aware in November that part of one consignment of PPE may have originated in one factory in China, where it has since been suggested that forced labour has been used."

The charity said more than 60% of the PPE it has supplied was manufactured in the UK.

In a statement, China's UK embassy said workers of all ethnic groups have "the freedom to choose their jobs and locations of work with zero restriction on their personal liberty". It said there was "no such thing" as forced labour in China.

The BBC has asked Medwell Medical Products for comment.

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