The European Union said on Wednesday it will ban products made with forced labor as China faces growing criticism that the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang region are forced into slave labor.
Brussels’ plan does not specifically mention China, but will instead focus on all products made with forced labor, including those made in the bloc.
“This proposal will bring real change to the fight against modern slavery, which affects millions of people around the world,” said EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dambrovskis.
“Our aim is to exclude all products produced with forced labor from the EU market, regardless of where they were produced,” he added.
The proposal must be ratified by EU member states and the European Parliament before it takes effect in two years.
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The idea differs from the United States’ apparent ban on imports from Xinjiang, which assumes that products from the region involve forced labor and are therefore stopped at the border unless businesses can prove otherwise.
However, the EU proposal risks a strong backlash from Beijing if it is seen as linked to allegations of rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Far Western region.
Xinjiang is one of the world’s largest cotton producers and a key supplier of solar cell materials.
The EU plan would allow national customs authorities to open investigations into goods “for which there are reasonable grounds to suspect that they have been produced with the help of forced labour”, it said in a statement.
Investigators will have the right to conduct checks and inspections, including in countries outside the European Union.
China has been accused of detaining more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslims in the region for years. Beijing insists it runs professional centers designed to fight extremism.
Earlier this month, EU foreign policy chief Josep Barel welcomed a damning United Nations report on China’s crackdown on the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang region.
The Chinese government condemned the report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as the work of a “thug and accomplice of the US and the West.”
Another recent study, conducted by UN labor and migration agencies with the Walk Free Foundation, found that 28 million people worldwide were in forced labor at the end of last year.