The European proposal would make the national authorities of the bloc’s 27 members responsible for enforcing the ban. But critics say that failing to identify the regions or industries that are the biggest culprits, as well as leaving individual nations to determine how to implement the policy, stood out as major weaknesses.
In the United States, the authorities are empowered to seize goods suspected of being the products of forced labor coming from Xinjiang. But in Europe, the authorities have to prove that the goods are in breach of the rules, and only then can they withdraw them from the market. The administrative and legal burden on the European authorities, which have varying capacities and political commitment to this cause, will most likely weaken the implementation, analysts said.
“A lot 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. (Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has built a close relationship with Beijing, facilitating sprawling Chinese investment in his country.)
The proposed law follows significant pressure from civil society and European lawmakers to confront China about its human rights record. Last year, the European Parliament blocked a landmark commercial agreement 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,” which detailed years of repression against the Uyghurs, lawmakers adopted a resolution calling for an outright import ban.
The proposed law has been criticized for failing to mention China but also because it does not help victims of forced labor to claim back wages, retrieve their documents or seek compensation.
“Does it help the fate of the Uyghurs? I am afraid it falls short,” Reinhard Buetikofer, a German member of the European Parliament for the Greens, told reporters on Monday. “I am not happy that state-induced forced labor is not even mentioned in the text,” he added.