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European Union Should Adopt Forced Labor Law

Import Ban Would Prevent Products Linked to Forced Labor from Entering EU

Workers make aluminum alloy products on a production line in Jinhu county, Jiangsu province, China, July 19, 2020. © 2020 Costfoto/Future Publishing via Getty Images

The links between China’s rapidly expanding car industry and forced labor in the Xinjiang region demonstrate why it is vital for European Union governments to adopt a proposed law banning imports and exports linked to forced labor.

EU institutions agreed on a draft version of the law on March 5, and EU governments are scheduled to vote on it on March 13.

China’s car imports into the EU are growing exponentially, driven by low-cost electric vehicles. The value of cars imported from China to the EU was 30 times larger in 2023 than five years earlier, rocketing from less than half a billion Euros in 2018 to nearly 13 billion in 2023.

This influx of Chinese cars into the EU risks exposing consumers to Chinese state-sponsored forced labor. Almost 10 percent of the world’s aluminum, a vital material for car making, especially electric cars, is produced in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government’s “labor transfer programs” coerce ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims into jobs away from their homes and into often distant factories and warehouses. Researchers have also documented links between other materials used in car manufacturing and forced labor in Xinjiang. Companies making cars in China, or sourcing parts from China, are at risk of exposure to forced labor.

The forced labor law agreed to by EU institutions is far less robust than the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act adopted in the United States, which establishes a presumption that any product produced in whole or in part in Xinjiang is produced with forced labor and cannot be imported.  

But the EU law does include measures to help investigators identify and stop products linked to state-imposed forced labor from entering the EU. This would help EU companies compete for the EU market on a level playing field with their Chinese counterparts. EU carmakers’ responsible sourcing practices vary widely and are far from perfect, but several are making meaningful efforts to trace their supply chains to identify and address links to human rights abuses.

The International Labour Organization estimates that 3.9 million people worldwide are in state-imposed forced labor programs. EU governments should vote in favor of the forced labor regulation to better protect workers and prevent companies benefitting from forced labor, in China and beyond, from selling to EU markets.

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