Human rights campaigners have been celebrating the news that supermarket giant, Tesco, is to phase out the use of CCTV cameras manufactured by Chinese suppliers, Hikvision and Dahua, across all of its stores. This signalled an acknowledgement from a major UK company of the ethical issues associated with Chinese-manufactured CCTV, and follows similar moves within the public sector.
Big Brother Watch, Free Tibet, Hong Kong Watch and Stop Uyghur Genocide wrote a joint letter to retailers: Tesco, Co-op and Marks and Spencer, in February calling on the companies to stop purchasing more CCTV from Hikvision and Dahua as well as to remove them from their buildings.
The letter to Tesco repeated the allegations against the Chinese companies, that have been made within a report by British MPs and in the judgment of the Uyghur Tribunal both published in 2021, that their technology has been involved in surveillance of persecution of Uyghur people in the Xinjiang province of China. They also allege similar surveillance is happening within Tibet and Hong Kong. Additionally, the campaign groups raise cybersecurity risks for companies they believe Hikvision and Dahua pose as well as the high-level of Chinese state ownership of these companies.
The Foreign Affairs Committee of MPs recommended that the Government banned CCTV companies like Hikvision from operating in the UK. As covered in previous blogs Fraser Sampson, the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (BSCC), who is responsible for overseeing the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, has also raised ethical concerns about local councils and police forces procuring CCTV from Hikvision and Dahua.
In his response to the human rights campaign groups, Jason Tarry, the chief executive of Tesco stated that: “We have a strong commitment to ethical sourcing and human rights, and we do not tolerate any forms of human rights abuse in our supply chain. When we became aware of the allegations linked to Hikvision and Dahua, we immediately took action to identify alternative suppliers.
“While we recognise the severity of these allegations, due to the size and complexity of our business and our responsibility to maintain safety and security in our stores, it will take some time until all the equipment can be swapped out. We can confirm that we are now in the process of transitioning to new suppliers.”
The statement from Tesco follows the instruction at the end of the last year from the UK government to its departments to cease installation of Chinese-manufactured CCTV, primarily citing cybersecurity concerns for its decision.
Responding to the announcement in a blog the BSCC stated that this was, “the first public acknowledgement by the government of what security professionals have known for some time: that these companies can’t be trusted with sensitive surveillance functions.”
Since then there have been reports of Welsh government bodies as well as local councils in Kent stopping the use of Hikvision cameras.
Publicly the Welsh government have stated: “We review the security cameras used as part of our CCTV systems as part of their regular maintenance cycle, which is leading to the installation of a replacement CCTV system. We take security and ethical factors into consideration during any procurement process. Any outright ban on the use of particular systems would need to be implemented at a UK level.”
Previously in response to a question from councillor Lewis Younie to the leader of Edinburgh council, Cammy Day, in a meeting of the full council last October it was stated that following an upgrade there would no longer be HikVision cameras in the public areas of the city that has CCTV. As cameras are upgraded on council buildings they would also be replaced and a survey of exact number of Hikvision within the 1,300 CCTV camera total was being carried out.
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