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Europe Plans to Ban Goods Made With Forced Labor

The European proposal would make the national authorities of the bloc’s 27 members responsible for enforcing the ban. But critics say failing to identify the regions or industries that are the biggest culprits, as well as leaving individual nations to determine how policies should be implemented, stood out as major weaknesses.

In the United States, authorities have the power to seize goods suspected of being the product of forced labor from Xinjiang. But in Europe, the authorities have to prove that the goods violate the rules, and only then can they take them off the market. The administrative and legal burden on European authorities, who have different capacities and political commitment to this end, will most likely weaken implementation, analysts say.

“Much will depend on the political will of national governments,” said Niclas Poitiers, a trade researcher at Bruegel, a Brussels-based research institute. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a very different application in Germany than in Hungary,” he added. (Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has built a close relationship with Beijing, allowing for sprawling Chinese investment in his country.)

The proposed law follows significant pressure from civil society and European lawmakers to confront China with its human rights record. Last year, the European Parliament blocked a landmark trade deal between the bloc and China, citing rights violations and a “totalitarian threat” from Beijing. And in June, after the publication of the “Xinjiang Police Files,” detailing years of repression against the Uyghurs, lawmakers passed a resolution calling for an outright ban on imports.

The proposed law has been criticized for not making mention of China, but also for failing to help victims of forced labor recover wages, get their documents back or claim damages.

‘Does it help the fate of the Uyghurs? I’m afraid it falls short,” Reinhard Buetikofer, a German MEP for the Greens, told reporters on Monday. “I’m not happy that state-induced forced labor isn’t even mentioned in the text,” he added.