"Human rights cannot be sold at any price. Ursula von der Leyen (President of the European Commission), announced, on September 15, in her State of the Union speech that she wanted to ban the European market from selling products "produced using forced labour".
MEPs are meeting in Strasbourg this Thursday to vote on a resolution that outlines a system they would like the Commission adopt next September.
MEPs have proposed a new instrument that "prohibits products resulting in forced labor coming from a specific production site, an importer, or a company", as well as from a region for state-sponsored forced labor.
EU authorities and states will thus be able to stop certain products from entering the European Union at the borders. This is if they "consider there is sufficient evidence of these goods being manufactured or transported in the context of forced labor".
In the draft, the importer will be challenged in case of doubt. The latter must prove that the goods were not manufactured, transported, or used for forced labor. This can lead to the release and return of the goods. This is a real reverse of the burden of proof.
MEPs are invited to question the Commission about the scope and international action plans, as well as the practical application of the new instrument. In September, the Commission will present the new instrument.
The project could go sour despite Ursula von der Leyen’s determination. The Commission's executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis (Letonian conservative), is at the head the Directorate General for Trade. He has tried everything to minimize the President's proposed measures.
Liberation's colleagues have informed us that Dombrovskis believes this project is in violation of the WTO rules, which prohibit discriminatory actions against particular countries or regions.
Initially, DG Trade wanted the concept of forced labor to be included in a proposal for a directive obliging businesses to ensure their products and activities are compliant with human rights and the environment. This could have led to the seizing of products that are not in compliance, but would not have prevented them from entering the European market.
Ursula von der Leyen therefore weighed in the weight so that Valdis Dombrovskis works alongside Thierry Breton (the French commissioner for internal market), in order to find a compromise for September. This text should be inspired from the resolution of MEPs which was put to the ballot this Thursday.
According to the European Commission around 25 million people are forced to work worldwide.
Despite the fact that China was not mentioned in Ursula von der Leyen's report in this regard nor in the resolution of MEPs, the communist nation is frequently singled out for its policies against the Uyghur minorities in the provinces of Xinjiang.
Many NGOs believe this population is forced into labor camps and textile factories, where they are subject to ill-treatment. Many countries, including the United States of America, talk of a "genocide" while others accuse Beijing with having held more than a million people in its political reeducation centers since 2017.
France opened an investigation last year into "concealmentof crimes against humanity" against Uniqlo France and Fast Retailing Japan. These brands are accused in China of profiting off the forced labor of Uyghurs.
In 2020, there will be several ready-to wear companies like the Swedish H
Raphael Glucksmann (Public Square MEP), a committed advocate for the Uyghur cause, published last January a "shamelist" listing more than 70 companies "accused" of using forced labor from the Uyghur minority of China. Apple, Google, Nike and Nintendo are just a few of the names mentioned.
Although the European market is second in world exports volume, the new instrument could have significant impact on economic activity in Beijing and Shanghai.