EU to ban import and export of goods made with forced labour

MEPs in voting groups amended the regulation to include the designation of areas and economic sectors at „high risk” of exposure to forced labour. Companies operating in these areas must demonstrate that their own supply chains are clean, rather than authorities launching investigations themselves. The groups referred to this as 'shifting the burden of proof’.

To this end, the groups recommend that products removed from the market should only be re-allowed once the company proves that it no longer uses forced labor and resolves related cases.

The Committees’ amendments extended the definition of forced labor to include „all work or service exacted from any person under threat of any penalty and which the person does not offer himself”.

More negotiations are needed to clarify the final form of the regulation.

The groups’ co-rapporteur, María-Manuel Ledo-Marquez, said: „”27.6 million workers around the world suffer from forced labour, a form of modern slavery – we must dedicate this victory to them. We have ensured that goods produced with forced labor are banned from the internal market until workers are compensated for their harm.

„Banning forced labor protects rule-abiding companies from unfair competition.”

At the press conference launching the motion, the co-rapporteurs said that the imposition of legislation should be handled by member states.

Supply chain challenges

Solar PV is one of the world’s most hot-button industries in terms of forced labour, and Europe – like the entire Western world – relies heavily on solar imports to meet its decarbonisation targets. Last month the European Solar Manufacturing Council (ESMC) published an open letter to the EU as part of its efforts to push for legislative protection for the European solar industry.

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China’s Xinjiang province is at the center of the debate, as much of the world’s polysilicon production is located in the province, shouldering concerns and accusations of forced exploitation of the local Uyghur population.

Responding to a question about Xinjiang polysilicon and solar imports at a press conference, co-reporter Samira Raffaela said that 'reversing the burden of proof’ means that we can target products more efficiently and specifically. Things like solar panels… I expect these products to be on the list of high-risk products. .”

In its letter, ESMC called on the EU to take advantage of the US Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) establishment list. MEPs would work in a similar manner to include clauses for pre-determining high-risk areas.

The UFLPA has led to 2GW worth of exports being delayed at US customs by 2022.

The European solar market has been wrestling with the damaging influence of Chinese imports in recent months as it tries to build a domestic PV manufacturing base.

In another open letter, the ESMC – backed by several notable European solar companies – spoke of a „deliberate and targeted attack by Chinese PV manufacturers”, threatening the sustainability of EU-made products, particularly low-cost modules.

Reports emerged in July that 40GW worth of imported Chinese solar modules were stored in European warehouses, mostly in the port of Rotterdam.

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