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December 1, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:49am

Daily Mail’s Robert Hardman responds to slave-labour claim over Mail Force PPE: ‘No good deed goes unpunished’

By Charlotte Tobitt

The journalist who helped cooordinate the Daily Mail’s campaign to source more than 40m pieces of PPE for the NHS said it was a “force for good” despite a batch of face masks being linked with forced labour in China.

The Mail Force charity said the batch of face masks suspected to have been made in a factory using forced labour from China’s Uyghur Muslims made up just 0.2% of the 42m pieces of protective equipment bought for UK healthcare workers since April.

The masks, which were bought through a third-party agent as Mail staff were unable to travel to China during the pandemic, had been certified for use in the EU and US and the purchase was approved by the Department of Health.

Mail columnist Robert Hardman, who helped run the Mail Force campaign, told Press Gazette: “We are very proud of what we have done. We delivered more than 40m pieces of PPE, most of them were made in the UK, and we would do it again tomorrow like a shot.”

He added: “We are adamant that this has been a force for good… No good deed goes unpunished.”

Hardman said the team had done its “due diligence” making sure everything was checked and certified, but “there is an element of risk when you go into this”.

“You can’t be certain – it’s not a simple process. But I feel the main thing is all the stuff we’ve bought has been of good quality and has arrived – we didn’t buy any rubbish or get duped.”

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Hardman openly mentioned the questions over the providence of some of the PPE equipment in his assessment of the campaign in Monday’s paper before it was reported by the BBC and Guido Fawkes.

He wrote: “We continued to seek new and better sources of PPE (early on, one small batch of Chinese masks, for example, came with the right EU certification but lacked the highest-grade fluid resistance and the factory was later accused of using slave labour; we never touched their kit again).”

Daily Mail front page on Monday 30 November

The Mail only made one order of the face masks, but said it did not become aware of the specific allegations about the factory until November.

A New York Times investigation first raised the issue of Uyghur Muslim labour being used by the company, Medwell, to produce face masks in July.

Mail Force was launched with £1m from the Daily Mail after its chairman Lord Rothermere and editor Geordie Greig were moved by images of NHS staff working in bin liners during a national shortage of PPE.

The campaign launched in dramatic fashion by flying a Dreamliner 787 loaded with £1m worth of PPE into Heathrow Airport.

The newspaper wrapped up the campaign on Monday with fundraising total of £11.7m.

[Read more: What the Daily Mail can teach news businesses about how to survive a pandemic]

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the campaign a “remarkable example of what we can achieve when we pull together to fight a common foe”.

In a statement, a Mail Force spokesperson said: “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. We were unaware of any such allegations at the time of procuring the items.

“The masks in question represent 0.2% of the 42m items of PPE we delivered to the UK. We are implacably opposed to forced labour of any kind.”

The charity said more than 60% of the PPE it delivered was manufactured in the UK, helping to support new British supply lines. It has also spent more than £1m on virus testing equipment for hospitals.

The Mail Force campaign is shortlisted for Campaign of the Year at the British Journalism Awards being held on Wednesday 9 December.

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Picture: Murray Sanders/Daily Mail

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