Brussels is set to ban products made using forced labor, a move that could further heighten tensions in its trade relationship with China in light of allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang province.
Footwear, clothing and products such as timber, fish and cocoa are among the products most likely to be affected, according to those with knowledge of the plans.
In June, the United States enacted a blanket ban on all imports from China’s Xinjiang province, where there have been allegations of widespread human rights abuses – including torture, arbitrary detention and forced labor – against Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities.
The EU ban will instead focus on all products made from forced labor – including those made within the bloc – to avoid breaching World Trade Organization rules on non-discrimination.
The Greens/European Free Alliance bloc in the European Parliament backed a US-style ban. Henrike Hahn, German Green MEP and member of the Chinese delegation to the parliament, said: “We are not like-minded friends of the totalitarian regime in China. We demand a ban on imports of Chinese forced labor products and products of Chinese companies in general made by forced labor.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, is expected to announce its plans this week.
‘Forced labor is a serious violation of a person’s human dignity and fundamental human rights,’ said a confidential draft document seen by the Financial Times, adding that eradication was the EU’s ‘priority’ .
The document, which does not name individual countries that could be targeted by the ban, adds that the EU has not had time to carry out a “full-fledged” impact assessment due to the urgency of the question.
The ban, which is expected to come into effect next year at the earliest, will apply to products for which forced labor has been used at any stage of their production, harvesting or extraction and to all products, from any type, including their components, the paper says.
“All economic operators, economic sectors, production stages or stages of value chains should fall within the scope,” he added.
The EU will use the International Labor Organisation’s definition of forced labour. The United Nations body estimates that 28 million people worldwide suffer from forced labor conditions in new estimates released on Monday.
The 27 EU member states will be responsible for detection and enforcement and will have to respond to complaints from non-governmental organisations, businesses and others. They will have to carry out an investigation and may request the cooperation of the country producing the goods.
Officials admit it could be difficult to find evidence, especially if countries are not cooperating. But if there is a high likelihood of forced labor being used, member states will be able to seize products and ban imports. An official said the EU had eased “the burden of proof” to help enforce the ban.
According to the document, the application will focus on large companies, including manufacturers, producers and suppliers of goods, following concerns that smaller companies have less leverage to lobby suppliers and “fewer resources to conduct thorough due diligence” on these companies.
Regulators also want to strengthen cooperation with countries outside the EU to ensure that products using forced labor do not end up in the bloc, the draft says.
Earlier this month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the Chinese government had committed “serious human rights violations” in its treatment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. Muslims in Xinjiang.
China has denied it is violating human rights in Xinjiang, one of the world’s biggest cotton producers and a key supplier of solar panel materials.
EU set to ban products made by forced labor