Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket, is to ditch Chinese CCTV surveillance cameras from its stores after warnings over their security and ethical risks.
The company has told campaigners that it is removing equipment supplied by the Chinese companies Hikvision and Dahua over their involvement in alleged human rights abuses in the suppression of the Uyghur Muslim minority by China.
Hikvision has also been banned from supplying its technology in the US after being judged an unacceptable risk to America’s national security. Under Chinese law, companies must “support, assist and co-operate” with state intelligence work.
The UK Government has also told its departments to stop installing Chinese-linked surveillance cameras at sensitive buildings and UK police forces are reviewing their use of the equipment amid growing fears over Beijing spying on the west.
Tesco revealed its policy change in a reply to campaign groups led by Big Brother Watch which wrote to leading supermarkets urging them to remove Hikvision and Dahua cameras from their stores because of their involvement in “serious human rights abuses and association with significant security issues”.
“These companies provide technology that facilitates the persecution and oppression of ethnic and religious groups in the Uyghur region (“Xinjiang”), Tibet and Hong Kong and have no place in the UK,” they said.
“These cameras also give rise to serious security concerns, given their links to the Chinese state and their history of security flaws.”
Jason Tarry, Tesco’s chief executive, replied: “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 Co-op said it had a “limited number” of Hikvision cameras and hardware but will consider alternative suppliers as part of a review of CCTV equipment this year.
The appeal to drop the use of the companies was sent by Big Brother Watch, Hong Kong Watch, Stop Uyghur Genocide and Free Tibet.
Madeleine Stone, Big Brother Watch’s legal and policy officer, said Tesco’s decision set an important precedent. “other retailers must now follow suit and remove these rights-abusive surveillance devices from their stores. There is no excuse for funding companies linked to crimes against humanity,” she said.
Surveillance commissioner Professor Fraser Sampson welcomed Tesco’s move but said other stores and the police should follow suit.
“Those supermarkets that have yet to follow should look at the extent to which they very properly extend ethical standards for free range eggs yet are happy to be in contract with some of these companies,” Prof Sampson said.
“It looks as though they apply different ethical standards to caged hens than they do for caged humans.”
A survey by Prof Sampson found police forces are “shot through” with Chinese-made cameras despite security concerns including equipment from Huawei which was banned last year from the UK’s 5G phone network.
Hikvision said it was “categorically false” to say it posed a threat to national security, adding that it followed scrupulously UK rules and regulations. It said it sold its products via distribution partners which meant it had no access to the end-user’s data, nor any ability to share it.
It said it had engaged with governments over “misunderstandings” regarding allegations of human rights abuses which it took very seriously.