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EU bans products made with forced labor from the single market

The persistence of forced labor in global production remains a pressing issue, necessitating unified international regulations for effective resolution. As defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO), forced labor encompasses all forms of work or service extracted from individuals under threat of penalty, devoid of voluntary consent. This includes instances where coercion is exerted through violence, intimidation, or subtler tactics like debt bondage, confiscation of identity documents, or threats to involve immigration authorities.

In response to this pervasive challenge affecting over 27 million individuals worldwide, the European Parliament has endorsed comprehensive regulations to eradicate products tainted by forced labor from the EU market. Under the newly approved legislation passed in late April 2024, national authorities are empowered to launch investigations upon suspicion of forced labor in product manufacturing. This entails scrutiny of suspicious goods, supply chains and producers by both Member State authorities and the European Commission. Investigation decisions must be rooted in verifiable information, sourced from international bodies, cooperative agencies, and whistleblowers. Factors such as the prevalence of state-sanctioned forced labor in specific sectors and regions will inform these inquiries. Additionally, the EU will establish a regularly updated database on forced labor risks, incorporating international reports to assist in evaluating potential legal violations.

If a product is found to have been produced using forced labor, it will no longer be allowed for sale on the EU market, including online platforms. Such shipments will be detained at the EU borders. Products found to be made with forced labor, already present in the EU market, will be either donated, recycled or destroyed. Non-compliant companies can expect to face proportionate and deterrent fines determined by the member states.

While the legislation applies globally, it's perceived as a deliberate stance against nations like Turkmenistan or China, where evidence of state-sponsored forced labor exists. Many lawmakers hope it will be used to block imports from China involving the Xinjiang region. The plans received widespread support across political groups regardless of affiliation. However, on the one hand, critics argued that the law would result in excessive bureaucracy and burden businesses. On the other hand, civil society organizations also highlighted certain limitations of the new regulation, as it does not mandate compensation for victims, which is a condition for lifting the ban on the product.

Formal approval from the Council of the European Union is now pending, after which Member States will have three years to implement the regulation upon its publication.