28th Sep 2023

EU considers ban on Chinese labour-camp goods

  • Renowned Chinese dissident, Harry Wu, has opened the Laogai Museum in Washington (Photo: dbking)

Under pressure from MEPs, the European Commission has hinted it is prepared to ban the importation of Chinese goods manufactured in forced labour camps.

Speaking during a debate in Strasbourg on Thursday (23 September), a number of euro-deputies claimed products produced in the government-sponsored camps were being sold across the EU to unsuspecting citizens.

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German centre-right MEP Daniel Caspary branded the Chinese products "blood-spattered goods", and called on the commission to put an end to their inflow.

EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele however said that the commission had raised the issue repeatedly in the past and was applying pressure through diplomatic channels.

"The commission fully agrees with the European Parliament that the Laogai [camp] system is completely incompatible with universally accepted concepts of human rights," said Mr Fuele.

He added that it was very difficult to verify which goods were being made in the camps - known as Laogai – of which China is thought to have roughly 500.

The majority of inmates in the labour camps are petty criminals who have been arrested and forced to work under reportedly terrible conditions.

Beijing still uses the camps to house political prisoners however, hidden amongst the drug addicts, street hawkers, prostitutes and pickpockets. Imprisonment is for up to four years.

With Thursday's debate coming just weeks before an EU-China summit in Brussels, Mr Fuele said that the EU preferred a policy of "positive dialogue" to an outright ban, but hinted that things could change.

"We have to acknowledge that there are limits to this approach which, so far, has not produced any notable change in Chinese policy," he told MEPs.

"The commission is open to considering a horizontal measure banning the import of goods produced using prison labour in violation of fundamental human rights," he added.

Privately, EU officials say WTO rules need to be taken into account but concede that the issue of a potential ban is being examined.

Other countries have already opted for a ban.

"Over the last 10-15 years there have been sufficiently valid concerns that a number of states have adopted strict policies against the goods," Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch International's Asian advocacy director, told this website.

One such country is the US, while influential Chinese scholars have themselves occasionally called for a closure of the camps that house roughly 400,000 prisoners according to the China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong NGO.

In July, Yu Jianrong, a liberal legal scholar and a key advisor to the Chinese government said China needed to "advance with the times" and close the camps.

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