Lawmakers press EU for outright ban on trade in goods made with forced labor
Lawmakers are pressing the European Commission to implement a comprehensive ban on trade in products made by forced labor, amid fears bureaucrats will water down plans to ban the practice later this year .
A resolution will be launched by influential members of the European Parliament’s Trade Committee in early June, calling for a “best practice-based” tool to ban forced labor products in the United States and Canada, as “a priority Parliament’s policy and the EU as a whole”.
It calls for a total ban on “the import and export of products made or transported by forced labour”, as well as those found within the EU’s single market.
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The motion does not directly target China, but only mentions two cases of alleged forced labor in the draft text seen by the South China Morning Post.
They are: the situation of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, where China has been accused of cultivating a widespread program of forced labor; and the alleged use of forced labor and human trafficking at the Serbian factory of the Chinese company Shandong Linglong Tire Co.
Several independent reports indicate that up to 1 million Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in Xinjiang have been held in detention camps, with many more allegedly subjected to forced labor conditions.
China has denied that there is forced labor in Xinjiang and recently ratified two International Labor Organization conventions governing the practice.
The European Commission is preparing a proposal to ban forced labor for September, a year after it was announced by President Ursula von der Leyen – much to the chagrin of many EU officials.
The announcement was not made in consultation with von der Leyen’s own business department, and the plan was passed from stalwart to post for much of the next nine months.
“Nobody wanted to take responsibility for it – we exchanged kicks in the ball,” an official said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the plan in September. Photo: dpa alt=European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the plan in September. Photo: dpa>
The powerful Commerce Department lobbied against a separate ban on forced labor goods, instead wanting them incorporated into new corporate due diligence rules, largely because they understood it would be an administrative nightmare to manage.
In the United States, which enacted the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act earlier this year, customs authorities have been pushed to the brink, while importers have complained about the burden of proving a negative: that there is no forced labor in your supply chain, especially beyond tier one and two suppliers in China.
Now, however, the free-market-loving trade directorate is tasked with crafting a plan in time for von der Leyen’s State of the Union address in September, alongside the department overseeing EU single market rules.
Parliamentary figures see the resolution as a way to ensure that infighting at the Berlaymont will not derail the extent of the ban.
The draft resolution – which insiders expect to pass by a large majority – says the instrument “should authorize the prohibition of products of forced labor from a particular production site, a particular importer of a company, those of a particular region in case of forced labour”.
That may put the powerful committee on a collision course with the commission, which is keen to avoid banning goods from specific regions.
In an address to parliament last month, Madelaine Tuininga, the commerce department’s chief sustainability officer, said that to comply with global trade rules, “we have to be careful not to single out specific countries” given that ” even when present, the goods produced with forced labor represent only a small part of all the goods produced in a region”.
In contrast, the US government operates on the principle that all goods made in Xinjiang should be treated as if there is forced labor in the supply chain.
The 27 EU member states imported $153 million worth of goods directly from Xinjiang in the first three months of the year, according to the To postcalculations based on Chinese customs data. This is a decrease of 13% compared to the first quarter of 2021.
A new report commissioned by parliament and released this week found that an import ban may not change things on the ground in Xinjiang, due to the “possibility of changes in logging patterns to avoid restrictions”. international”.
The report, which also looked at cases of “modern slavery” in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Mexico, the Philippines, Sudan and Thailand, found that the situation in Xinjiang was “particularly difficult” because “the State is actively working to prevent accurate reporting of the situation.”
Highlighting retaliatory sanctions imposed by Beijing on EU lawmakers, diplomats and academics in response to Brussels’ sanctioning of mid-level officials implicated in human rights abuses in the region, the authors found “a unwillingness to constructively engage with coercive measures and improve the slavery situation in Xinjiang on the part of the Chinese government”.
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice journal on China and Asia for over a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.