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'Hidden cost' of China's Belt and Road is forced labor: U.S. report

Host governments must ensure citizens are not exploited, document says

Workers at the construction site of East Coast Rail Link, a Chinese-invested railway project that is part of Beijing's Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative, in Bentong, Malaysia, on Jan. 13. © Reuters

July 20, 2022 04:47 JST

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) -- The U.S. State Department highlighted the use of forced labor in China's Belt and Road infrastructure initiative in its annual human trafficking report released Tuesday, while maintaining its assessment that Japan's efforts to eliminate trafficking are not yet sufficient.

Calling forced labor the "hidden cost" of China's Belt and Road Initiative, the department said in the Trafficking in Persons Report, "All countries should be able to pursue development opportunities without sacrificing their respect for human rights."

"If a BRI project employs local workers, the host government must scrutinize recruitment channels and contracts to ensure its citizens are not lured under false pretenses and exploited," it added.

The move comes as the U.S. is working with other Group of Seven industrialized nations to provide an alternative to the BRI for low- and middle-income nations, advocating "high-standards and quality investments" in infrastructure.

Implemented since 2013, the BRI is a scheme critics say was designed to draw countries deeper into Beijing's economic orbit. It has faced criticism for its record of saddling developing countries with debt and for poor environmental and labor standards.

The report alleges some BRI projects in African, European, Middle Eastern and Asian countries and elsewhere have seen cases of deceptive recruitment into debt bondage, confiscation of travel documentation, forced overtime, physical violence, restricted freedom of movement and retaliation for reported abuses, among other issues.

In the report's rating system for the human trafficking situation in various countries, China remained in Tier 3, the worst level.

Japan was rated as Tier 2 -- a better status than Tier 3 and Tier 2 Watch List -- with the State Department reiterating that the Asian country should "vigorously investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking cases, and hold convicted traffickers accountable by imposing strong sentences."

Japan remained in Tier 2 for the third consecutive year after earning the highest classification of Tier 1 in 2018 and 2019.

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