EU to ban goods produced using forced labour in move targeted mainly at China, Turkmenistan

European Parliament VALERIO FABBRI goods

The European Parliament in its recent sessions gave its final approval to halt the sale, import, and export of goods made using forced labour.

Although the rule has been applied to products manufactured anywhere in the world, the law is seen as a move targeted against nations like China and Turkmenistan, where there is reported evidence of state-sponsored forced labour, Euro News reported.

The regulation was adopted with 555 votes in favour, 6 votes against and 45 abstentions. The text now has to get a final formal approval from the EU Council, according to the press statement. It will then be published in the Official Journal. EU countries will have to start applying it in 3 years.

This law has enabled member state authorities and the European Commission to investigate suspicious goods, supply chains, and manufacturers, the European Parliament said in a press release.

According to the press statement from the EU released on Tuesday, if a product is deemed to have been made using forced labour, it will no longer be possible to sell it on the EU market, including online and shipments will be intercepted at the EU’s borders.

The decision to investigate will be based on factual and verifiable information that can be received from, for example, international organisations, cooperating authorities and whistle-blowers, according to the statement. Several risk factors and criteria will be taken into account, including the prevalence of state-imposed forced labour in certain economic sectors and geographic areas.

The EU Parliament in the press release said, “Manufacturers of banned goods will have to withdraw their products from the EU single market and donate, recycle or destroy them. Non-compliant companies could be fined. The goods may be allowed back on the EU single market once the company eliminates forced labour from its supply chains.”

In the press release, Rapporteur for the Internal Market Committee, Maria-Manuel Leitao-Marques stated, “Today, worldwide, 28 million people are trapped in the hands of human traffickers and states who force them to work for little or no pay. Europe cannot export its values while importing products made with forced labour. The fact that the EU finally has a law to ban these products is one of the biggest achievements of this mandate, and a victory for progressive forces.”

The Rapporteur for the International Trade Committee, Samira Rafaela stated, “This is a historic day. We have adopted a ground-breaking piece of legislation to combat forced labour worldwide. This regulation fosters EU and international cooperation, shifts power from exploiters to consumers and employees, and offers possibilities for remedies for victims. It also transforms trade policies into a greener and fairer future.”

A recent report found a connection between dozens of major European clothing brands and forced labour in detention camps in China’s Xinjiang, where there is documented evidence of systemic abuses against Uyghurs and other minority ethnic groups, according to Euro News report.

The report said that brands like Sweden-based H&M and Zara could be sourcing materials made by Uyghurs in the notorious detention camps in Xinjiang, Euro News reported. This Chinese region accounts for an estimated 90 per cent of Chinese cotton and some 20 per cent of the total world supply.

In 2021, the US introduced a law that banned goods manufactured in Xinjiang, with importers legally obliged to provide evidence any products related to Xinjiang are made without forced labour.

In 2022, US lawmakers launched a probe into Chinese-owned retail giants Shein and Temu – which have witnessed growth in the European market, Adidas and Nike for potential links to Uyghur forced labour.

Earlier in March, the US Customs and Border Patrol head announced that the agency has blocked nearly USD 500 million worth of imports from entering American ports this year as it was made “wholly or in part” by Uyghur forced labour, Radio Free Asia reported. Miller made the announcement in an event in Washington.

The decision comes as more Western governments are taking action against companies whose products and supply chains involve forced labour by the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, as per the news report.

In an event at the Forced Labour Technical Expo at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Troy Miller launched a website that keeps a track of shipments blocked due to forced labour.

Miller said that 3,605 shipments worth USD 816 million had been blocked due to suspected forced labour across all of last year, as per the Radio Free Asia report.

Troy Miller stressed that the value of blocked shipments this year had already reached nearly two-thirds of last year’s figure, with some USD 496 million worth of imports across 1,910 shipments blocked before February 26 due to December 2021 Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

“That being said, shipments identified for further examination under UFLPA represent 0.01% of all shipments entering the US since the implementation of the act,” Radio Free Asia quoted Troy Miller as saying.”

Overall, this obviously a very small number of shipments subject to CBP’s enforcement actions,” he added. US Customs and Border Patrol’s acting head said that he wished to see the number of intercepted shipments reduced as US businesses learn they risk losing their shipments.

“As required by law, we continue to take enforcement action to inspect and detain goods when we receive credible allegations that goods are connected to Xinjiang,” he said as per the Radio Free Asia report, but “importers must take responsibility to know their supply chains and address the risk of forced labour.”

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