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EU set to ban forced labour products from the bloc’s market

By Silvia Ellena

September 12, 2022

The Commission is set to propose a ban on all products made with forced labour produced in the EU or imported from third countries. [Shutterstock/NEERAZ CHATURVEDI]

The European Commission is proposing a blanket ban on all goods made with forced labour produced in the EU or imported from third countries, according to a draft proposal seen by EURACTIV.

The new rules, which will be announced by the Commission on Wednesday (14 September), aim at banning manufacturers, producers and suppliers from placing products made with forced labour on the EU market or exporting them to third countries.

According to the draft proposal, the ban will cover all products tainted by human rights abuses either imported or made in the EU and will be applied to all companies and industries, including SMEs.

“Such prohibition should apply to products for which forced labour has been used at any stage of their production, manufacture, harvest and extraction, including working or processing related to the products,” reads the text.

The EU’s draft law would apply to situations of forced labour as defined by the International Labour Organisation, including “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.”

According to data from ILO, around 27.6 million people are currently in forced labour, 86% of cases in the private economy and 14% in state-imposed forced labour.

Risk-based approach

According to the draft proposal, the Commission will set up a database of forced labour risk depending on geographic areas and sectors.

National authorities designated by member states will have to carry out investigations on products suspected of being produced under conditions of forced labour, focusing on manufacturers and companies in sectors and situated in regions where forced labour is most likely to occur.

While SMEs are included in the scope of the draft law, enforcement is likely to focus on large companies, as aspects such as the scale of operations and the quantity of products concerned will be taken into account during the investigation.

The authorities’ assessment will also be based on information from various sources, including NGOs.

If within 30 days of a preliminary investigation, they find “there is a substantiated concern of violation,” authorities will proceed with a second investigation, including checks and inspections, on the items and companies suspected of forced labour.

Companies will be required to provide information on the products under investigation and their suppliers.

Meanwhile, customs authorities will have to suspend the free circulation of these products while investigations are carried out.

Xinjiang not explicitly mentioned

Goods found to be tainted by forced labour by one national authority will then be seized and withdrawn from the whole EU market, unless companies prove they have eliminated forced labour from their supply chains.

Moreover, EU countries will have to introduce “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” penalties in case companies continue to place the product on the market.

The forced labour ban is also a reaction to the number of reports of Uyghur labour camps in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. The EU is not the first to react decisively to these reports – in June, the US effectively banned the import of goods from Xinjiang.

The EU Commission’s draft proposal does not specifically mention any region or country of origin, although it refers to a June resolution of the European Parliament that does explicitly refer to the situation in Xinjiang.

The reason for keeping the proposal free of regional references might lie in the goal of making the regulation compatible with the non-discrimination rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Next steps

The proposal, which is set to be presented on Wednesday, will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and member states and will apply two years after entering into force.

To help national authorities in implementing this regulation, the Commission will publish guidelines on forced labour due diligence and information on risk indicators. Moreover, an EU Union Network Against Forced Labour Products will be set up to facilitate coordination between the Commission and national authorities.

Luca Bertuzzi contributed to reporting for this article.

[Edited by János Allenbach-Ammann and Nathalie Weatherald]


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