EU proposes to ban products made with forced labor

European Union flags fly outside the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, June 17, 2022. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

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BRUSSELS, Sept 14 (Reuters) – The European Commission on Wednesday proposed a European ban on products made by forced labor with legislation that will add to existing U.S. pressure on China, but is likely to change before it takes effect.

The EU executive does not name any countries in its proposal, but it follows a European Parliament call for such a law in June that highlighted human rights concerns in China’s northern region. Xinjiang.

Rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority, in Xinjiang, including mass forced labor in internment camps. The United States, which accuses China of genocide, introduced a law in 2021 that broadly bans the import of goods from Xinjiang.

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China denies abuses in the region, a major cotton producer that also supplies materials for solar panels.

The EU proposal highlights the 27.6 million people the International Labor Organization said were engaged in forced labor in 2021, 11% more than in 2016.

Just over half were in the Asia-Pacific region, although the highest per capita level is in the Arab States. Forced labor is also a problem in high-income countries.

The European Commission proposes that national agencies in the EU27 determine whether forced labor has been used to manufacture a product. The Commission would publish the decisions on a website to guide customs authorities.

The ban should apply to all products, including components, and all levels of production, from extraction or harvesting to manufacturing, as well as products produced in the EU and exports of the EU.

The new law may not lead to major changes in trade flows, but would increase pressure on companies to monitor supply chains.

European Greens lawmaker Anna Cavazzini welcomed the broad proposal but expressed concern that the products would only be blocked after an investigation was completed and said the burden of proof was not on companies after allegations of forced labor, as is the case in the United States.

The European Parliament and EU governments will almost certainly modify the proposal and will have to agree before it comes into force.

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Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop Editing by Mark Potter

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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