The Charity Commission is looking into reports that a charity set up by the Daily Mail newspaper to buy PPE for NHS staff donated 100,000 face masks suspected of being made in a Chinese forced labour camp.
The newspaper and its owner, Daily Mail and General Trust, launched the Mail Force charity in April this year to source and provide PPE for NHS and care workers.
The registered charity raised more than £11m, and has provided testing equipment to the Great Ormond Street Hospital charity in London, and PPE to learning disability charity Mencap.
After the Daily Mail published two videos showing reporters delivering boxes of PPE marked “Medwell” in April, a New York Times investigation two months later revealed that Medwell's factory, in the town of Fenglin, in Jiangxi province, eastern China, was identified as using suspected forced labour from the country's Uighur minority.
According to the paper, Uighur Muslims make up a quarter of the factory's workforce.
Mail Force said it was unaware of allegations about Medwell at the time.
The charity said it did all it could to ensure that items met the relevant procurement standards, and that every batch was approved by Department of Health and Social Care inspectors prior to being bought and prior to delivery.
A spokesman for the charity said: “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 masks in question represent 0.2 per cent of the 42 million items of PPE we delivered to the UK. We are implacably opposed to forced labour of any kind."
The charity provided a copy of its Modern Slavery Act statement to Third Sector after publication of this story.
The law in respect of Modern Slavery Statements is set out within the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Guidance on this, and how to interpret the act, is published by the Home Office.
It specifies that charities must publish an annual MSS if they meet the criteria set out in the act.
The regulator expects charities to follow the law, which includes this act and its accompanying guidance, and seek legal advice where needed.
But as a new charity, Mail Force has not yet had to submit its accounts to the commission, so a determination about whether the charity must provide this statement by law is yet to be made.
A spokeswoman for the commission said: “Forced labour is clearly at odds with everything we associate with charity.
“We are aware of these reports and will be contacting the trustees for further information.”
- An earlier version of this story said the charity had been unable to provide a copy of its Modern Slavery Act statement