The EU proposes to ban products made with forced labor

European Union flags fly outside the EU Commission headquarters 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 an EU ban on products made with forced labor with legislation that would add to existing US pressure on China, but is likely to change before it comes into force.

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

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 legislation in 2021 that would broadly ban the import of goods from Xinjiang.

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

The EU proposal highlights the 27.6 million people the International Labor Organization says will be involved in forced labor in 2021, 11% more than in 2016.

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

The European Commission proposes national agencies in the 27-member EU that must establish whether forced labor has been used to produce a product. The Commission will publish decisions on a website to guide customs authorities.

The ban should apply to all products, including parts, and at all levels of production from procurement or harvesting to manufacturing as well as EU-made and EU-exported products.

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

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

The European Parliament and EU governments will almost certainly amend the proposal and will need to agree before it can take effect.

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Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop Editing by Mark Potter

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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