The European Union announced Wednesday that it will outlaw goods produced using forced labor as China comes under increasing pressure over allegations that the Uyghur population in the Xinjiang area is being pushed into slave labor.
The plan from Brussels does not expressly target China but will instead concentrate on all items created using forced labor, including those made within the bloc.
“This proposal will make a real difference in tackling modern-day slavery, which affects millions of people around the globe,” said the EU’s trade commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis.
“Our aim is to eliminate all products made with forced labour from the EU market, irrespective of where they have been made,” he added.
Before going into effect two years from now, the proposal must be ratified by all EU member states as well as the European Parliament.
The concept is distinct from the United States’ explicit embargo on imports from Xinjiang, which assumes those goods are made using forced labor and halts them at the border unless companies can show otherwise.
However, the EU plan runs the risk of inciting a strong response from Beijing if it is perceived as being connected to claims of rights breaches against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the far-western region.
One of the biggest cotton producers in the world as well as a significant supplier of solar panel components is Xinjiang.
According to a statement, the EU plan will let national customs agencies start looking into goods “for which there are well-founded suspicions that they have been made with forced labor.”
Investigators will have the authority to conduct audits and inspections anywhere, including outside of the European Union.
For years, China has been charged with imprisoning more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslims in the area. Beijing maintains that it operates career centers intended to prevent radicalism.
Josep Borrell, the head of diplomacy for the European Union, earlier this month hailed a critical UN report on China’s treatment of the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang region.
The report from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has been denounced by the Chinese government as being the product of a “thug and accomplice of the US and the West.”
28 million individuals were engaged in forced labor worldwide as of the end of last year, according to a new research by the UN agencies for labor and migration and the Walk Free Foundation.