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The Uyghurs: is the European Commission ready to ban products from the Xinjiang region?

On 15 September 2021, Ursula Von der Leyen announced, during her State of the Union address, that the European Commission would propose a ban on the sale of forced labour products in the European Union. Chinese production involving the Muslim Uyghur minority could be affected.

The time has come for the European Commission to keep its promise, a moment long awaited by more than 300 European elected officials. They hope that the European Union will follow the lead of the United States by banning forced labour products from its market. More than 25 million people in the world are threatened with, or forced into, forced labour. This announcement includes goods produced by the Uyghur minority enslaved by the Chinese government. Indeed, Beijing is accused by Western countries of the mass internment of members of the Muslim and Turkic-speaking community of Xinjiang in huge labour camps, while the country claims that they are vocational training centres. More than a million people are still locked up and tortured in these camps. Many factories, especially textile factories, are located in this region and supply many multinational companies. In her statement, Ursula Von der Leyen did not directly mention China, which is why Beijing has not yet reacted because the government refutes any accusation of forced labour.

The announcement made by the European Commission reflects the desire for a major change for companies and their value chains. Indeed, a report by the Australian organization ASPI has implicated more than 83 companies that benefit from the enslavement of the Uyghur people via their suppliers. These include major brands such as Zara, Nike and Apple. This new legislation would make multinationals responsible for human rights violations that exist in their production or supply chains. This project responds to a desire to harmonise, on a European scale, the different laws that exist in countries such as France or Holland, for example, and which are not very effective.

Since 2020, many large mobilisations have taken place to denounce the genocide of which the Uyghurs are victims of in China.  In Europe, this fight is actively led by the French MEP Raphael Glucksmann, who is conducting a major awareness campaign on social networks. He regularly challenges the incriminated brands on his social media, with the help of his army of followers. This campaign has shown that this young, engaged public could have influence on these huge multinationals and, ultimately, on the European institutions, which are finally taking up the problem. The MEP was also pleased on Twitter with the announcement of the President of the European Commission but warned that we should not relax the mobilisation because these multinationals would do everything they could to block this measure.

The Uyghur Institute of Europe has also taken note of the European statements and now firmly expects the Executive Vice President and Commissioner for External Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, to initiate the legislative process. They want to go even further and demand an official recognition and condemnation of the Uyghur genocide by the European Union.

Romane Le Strat

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