In October 2021, the trade ministers of the G-7 countries, the world’s richest nations, issued a joint statement pledging to eradicate forced labor in global supply chains.
The ministers stated, “We affirm that there is no place for forced labor in the rules-based multilateral trading system.” The declaration recognizes the important role that trade policy plays in preventing, identifying, and eliminating forced labor in global supply chains.
However, commitments vary across the world’s seven major economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Recently, human rights and fair trade activists pointed out Canada’s insufficient efforts. Now in an article in The Diplomat, two human rights and trade policy experts from the Human Trafficking Legal Center warned also about Japan’s failure to intervene in the systematic forced labor in China’s Uyghur Region.
Japan’s position on forced labor in China
Anasuya Syam and Airin Ri of the Human Trafficking Legal Center in Washington, DC point out that the resolution the Japanese government passed on February 1, 2022 only suggests the possibility of conducting an investigation to determine the scope of the Uyghur problem and characterizes forced labor as a serious human rights “situation” rather than a systematic and massive campaign carried out by the Chinese government.
The Japanese government’s comments on the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) also suggest that its primary interest is in gaining exemptions for merchandise that Japanese companies and their Chinese affiliates export to the United States.
Japan’s forced labor numbers
In their column, Syam and Ri detail some of the statistics as evidence of the impact of forced labor in Japan:
- Japan is the second-largest importer of products linked to forced labor (worth $47 billion) after the United States.
- It is suspected that 86% of Japanese laptops, computers, and cell phones manufactured in China and Malaysia (worth $22.4 billion a year) are linked to forced labor.
- About 80 percent of all clothing and accessories imported by Japan (worth $20.6 billion) from China, Argentina, Brazil, and other countries are also potentially linked to forced labor.
Import bans as an effective tool against forced labor
Japan recently announced that it will draft due diligence guidelines for companies to detect and prevent human rights violations in supply chains. However, specialists claim that the Japanese government can – and should – adopt an import ban similar to Section 307 of the U.S. Tariff Act, which prohibits the entry of products made with forced labor into the United States.
China will not abandon its state policy of forced labor unless major economies and major trading partners create the necessary economic pressure on the Chinese government. Experts therefore consider import bans to be one of the most powerful trade tools available today to deter forced labor in global supply chains.
Experts state that it is imperative that all G-7 nations present a united front and work together to eliminate forced labor from the trading system. It is time for Japan to take decisive action against modern slavery.
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