Rights groups say EC forced labor proposal needs work
The European Commission, the legislative arm of the European Union, released a 60-page proposal on Wednesday that would ban products made by forced labor, a measure aimed at preventing goods tainted with forced labor from entering and leaving the market. of the Union.
The proposed regulation was published a year after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the initiative in her 2021 State of the Union address.
“The proposal covers all products, namely those produced in the EU for domestic consumption and exports, and imported goods, without targeting specific companies or industries,” the European Commission said in a statement.
The release of the proposal follows a new US law called the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), which bans products made with forced labor from Xinjiang, a Uyghur region in western China. Enforcement of the US legislation began in June.
Although the European Commission’s proposal on forced labor is generally similar to US law, it does not specify a region such as Xinjiang. Instead, the proposal is much broader and applies to all products produced globally, including within EU borders.
Some critics say the European version is weak because it lacks a clear procedure for an entire industry and lacks a targeted regional ban, said Koen Stoop, EU representative to the World Congress Munich-based Uighur.
“The draft text raises concerns about whether the proposal is written in a meaningful way to address state-imposed forced labor (such as Uyghur forced labor),” Stoop told VOA in an email. “We hope that amendments will be made to strengthen the regulations.”
The proposal seeks to address the problem of forced labor on a global scale, stating: “The use of forced labor is widespread around the world. It is estimated that around 27.6 million people were in forced labor in 2021.”
“This proposal will make a real difference in the fight against modern slavery, which affects millions of people around the world. Our goal is to eliminate all products made by forced labor from the EU market, regardless of where they were made. Our ban will apply to domestic products, exports as well as imports,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice President and Commissioner for Trade of the European Commission.
Rights groups expect the legislative process, from proposal to adoption, to take a long time as the European Parliament and Council must agree on a final text.
“There is no time limit for ‘first reading’ in parliament and council, so it depends on how quickly they can reach an agreement, both among themselves and among themselves,” said Stoop at VOA. “It usually takes at least a year. But even when the law is passed, it will take two years for it to come into force. So taken together, it will take at least three years for the ban to begin to be enforced.
Each EU Member State will enforce the law by assessing the risks of forced labor based on many different sources of information.
“These may include submissions from civil society, a database of forced labor risks focusing on specific products and geographies, and the due diligence companies carry out,” the European Commission said.
“Competent authorities and customs will work hand in hand to make the system robust. We have sought to minimize the administrative burden for businesses, with a tailor-made approach” for small and medium-sized businesses, Dombrovskis said. “We will also deepen our cooperation with our global partners and with international organizations.”
China and the Charges of Forced Labor
Although China is not targeted by the EU proposal, the United States, the United Nations and rights groups have accused China of using Uyghur forced labor and said the treatment by Beijing to Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang constituted crimes against humanity. Rights groups hope the European Commission’s proposal will specifically address Uyghur forced labor.
“We are certainly encouraged by the steps taken by the commission, and we want to see a proposal that is up to the task when it comes to the fight against forced labor in the Uyghur region,” Peter Irwin, senior advocacy program manager and communications at the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, VOA told in an email. “The law must include procedures to compel companies to remove this type of state-imposed forced labor from their supply chains.”
China has repeatedly denied the forced labor charges as “lies of the century” propagated by the United States and designed to use criticism of Xinjiang to contain China.
On Thursday, in response to the EU proposal, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning told reporters in Beijing: “There is no so-called ‘forced labor’ in China. . We firmly oppose the use of so-called “forced labor” or any Xinjiang-related issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs. »
However, activists outside China see the proposal as a boon for Uyghurs living in China.
“This resolution adds to growing economic pressure on the Chinese government to dismantle its state-sponsored forced labor system in the Uyghur region, as well as to end corporate complicity in these abuses.” , said Jewher Ilham, coordinator of the forced labor project at the Washington-based Consortium for Workers’ Rights.
By banning products made with forced labor, Ilham told VOA, the EU is aligning its market with global standards and other legislatures.