European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced plans for the European Union to impose a ban on imports of products made using forced labor.
Speaking at the annual State of the European Union, she did not name any countries linked to forced labor by name, but observers believe this was directed at Uyghur forced labor in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Noting the importance of human dignity coming before profits, she said, “Doing business around the world is good, global trade around the world is good and necessary, but can never be done at the expense of people’s freedom and dignity. We will propose a ban on products made with forced labour.”
In von der Leyen’s native Germany, rights activists this month filed a criminal complaint against five retailers, including Hugo Boss and C&A, accusing them of benefiting from Chinese state abuse of Uyghurs.
“There are 25 million people out there, who are threatened or coerced into forced labour. We can never accept that they are forced to make products — and that these products then end up for sale in shops here in Europe,” she said.
“So we will propose a ban on products in our market that have been made by forced labour. Human rights are not for sale — at any price.”
von der Leyen announced that the E.U. would soon unveil a “Global Gateway” strategy based on “values-based approach, offering transparency and good governance to our partners.”
This was read as plans for Europe to build trade, infrastructure, and supply chain links during the E.U.-African summit, as well as in Asia — a response to China’s Belt and Road plans across the Indo-Pacific region.