Many people want to protect themselves from Covid by sometimes wearing thin blue disposable gloves. The majority of these gloves come from Malaysia – and are also manufactured there by forced labourers. Such and other goods that involve forced laborers should no longer be allowed to be sold in the EU in the future. National supervisory authorities should take the goods out of circulation, customs officers should stop imports and exports. This is provided for in a regulation that the Commission intends to present this week. Of the Süddeutsche Zeitung there is a 38-page draft.
According to estimates According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), there are 27.6 million forced laborers, more than half of whom are exploited in Asia and Oceania. on China A considerable part is probably omitted: The government is accused of having Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities do forced labor in labor camps in Xinjiang province. Goods related to this may no longer be exported to the EU in the future. The law, which still has to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers – the body of the member states – could thus further strain relations with China. Especially since Brussels recently tightened its pace towards China with other trade policy initiatives.
The SPD MEP Bernd Lange, chairman of the trade committee, emphasizes that the new EU law is “not a Lex China”. There is also slave labor for products from other countries. In addition to the gloves from Malaysia, he mentions sugar cane from Central America. In addition, the regulation, which is due to come into force two years after its passage, also targets illegal factories within the EU where modern slaves are exploited. Their goods may not be sold or exported from Europe. It is important that the legal act also focuses on goods from the EU in addition to imports, because otherwise other countries could complain to the World Trade Organization about protectionism, explains Lange.
In concrete terms, the regulation stipulates that Member State authorities collect information and check whether certain products pose a risk of manufacturers or suppliers employing forced labour. The Commission also wants to set up a database on goods that are particularly affected. If a company or a product is suspected, the authorities initiate investigations. Officials are allowed to visit companies, including abroad. If the company cannot refute the allegations, the authorities ban sales in the EU as well as imports and exports. Goods that are already on the shelves are recalled and destroyed or donated.
Volkswagen and BASF have plants in the Uyghur province
If corporations want to avoid such trouble, they must carefully examine whether their suppliers around the world might be employing forced labourers. However, Brussels wants to prescribe such efforts soon anyway: Six months ago, the Commission laid the Draft EU supply chain law that goes far beyond the German version. The policy requires companies to monitor and address human rights and pollution violations throughout the supply chain.
The SPD trade politician Lange says the ban on forced labor could lead to “changes in the value chains”. In other words, companies could part with suppliers where there is a risk that they are in some form of forced labour benefit. In the Chinese province of Xinjiang, for example, the DAX companies Volkswagen and BASF also have branches, together with local partners. Lange says that German companies would also “have to look at their value chains and maybe change them”.
Criticism of the proposal comes from the Greens. Anna Cavazzini, the trade policy spokeswoman for the parliamentary group in the European Parliament, welcomes the initiative in principle: “The pressure to act is great,” she says. Products involving forced labor “often end up on our supermarket shelves, making European consumers involuntary accomplices.” But in the negotiations on the law in Parliament, she will insist that “the hurdle of proof” for the authorities is not too high.
Cavazzini would prefer the act to put the burden of proof on companies, like a similar law in the US. If there is evidence of forced labor, the companies there have to prove that their suppliers have nothing to do with such machinations. Lange defends the Commission’s approach and rejects “general suspicion against companies and certain states”. The CDU MEP Daniel Caspary agrees with the Social Democrats. “Companies simply cannot reverse the burden of proof, as some colleagues in the European Parliament are demanding,” says the trade politician.