EU bans products made with forced labor, putting China at risk

The European Union said on Wednesday it would ban products made with forced labor as China faces mounting criticism that the Uighur people in the Xinjiang region are being forced into forced labour.

The Brussels plan does not specifically mention China, but will instead focus on all products made from forced labor – including those made within the bloc.

“This proposal will make a real difference in tackling modern slavery, which affects millions of people around the world,” said EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis.

“Our goal is to eliminate all products made with forced labor from the EU market, regardless of where they are made,” he added.

The proposal would require ratification by EU member states and the European Parliament before it could enter into force two years later.

Read also: China denies allegations of forced labor in Shanghai prison

The idea differs from the outright US ban on imports from Xinjiang which assumes that products from the region involve forced labor and are therefore stopped at the border unless companies prove otherwise.

However, the EU proposal risks provoking a strong reaction from Beijing if it is seen as being linked to allegations of rights abuses of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the far western region.

Xinjiang is one of the world’s largest cotton producers and a major supplier of solar panel materials.

A statement said the EU plan would allow national customs authorities to open investigations into products “which there are justifiable suspicions that they were manufactured through forced labour.”

Investigators will be empowered to conduct checks and inspections, including in countries outside the European Union.

China has been accused for years of detaining more than a million Uighurs and other Muslims in the region. Beijing insists it operates professional centers designed to curb extremism.

The head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, earlier this month welcomed the damning UN report on China’s campaign against the Uighurs in Xinjiang.

The Chinese government has condemned the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, describing it as an act of “thug and accomplice of the United States and the West.”

Another recent study conducted by the UN agencies for labor and migration together with the Walk Free Foundation found that at the end of last year, 28 million people around the world were in forced labor.

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