The government ratifies the conventions on forced labor after a showdown with the European Union

In the muffled sound of a stroke of a pen on a sheet of paper, Beijing has finally yielded under pressure from the international community. China on Wednesday ratified the international conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), in particular prohibiting forced labor. This signature was a prerequisite set by the European Union for that of a bilateral agreement on investments, negotiated at the end of 2020, China being accused of using forced labor in Xinjiang. In February, an ILO committee of experts expressed its “deep concern” over the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in China, particularly in this predominantly Muslim province.

According to human rights organizations, at least a million Uyghurs and members of other Muslim ethnicities are or have been incarcerated in camps in this region of northwestern China. Beijing says for its part that these are vocational training centers intended to keep them away from terrorism and separatism. ILO experts then demanded that the Chinese government “reorient the mandate of vocational training and education centers” which are currently “centers of political re-education based on administrative detentions”.

H&M boycotted in China, leaders sanctioned in Europe

The subject is of concern to the international community. Thus, a law prohibiting the purchase of products which would be derived from the forced labor of the Uyghurs came into force in December 2021 in the United States, which accuses China of genocide against this minority. Beijing vigorously rejects this accusation, which has forced some multinationals to pledge not to supply to Xinjiang. Last year, Swedish clothing giant H&M faced a boycott of its stores in China after pledging not to buy cotton from Xinjiang.

The controversy prompted the Europeans to mention the issue of forced labor in the investment protection agreement they reached with Beijing on December 31, 2020. In this text, supposed to protect European investments in China, Beijing committed “ to work towards the ratification of the fundamental conventions of the ILO, including those (prohibiting) forced labour”, Brussels said at the time. Ratification of the agreement has since stalled, following mutual sanctions taken last year by Europe and China over the Xinjiang issue.

In March 2021, the European Union along with the United States and Canada sanctioned four leaders and one entity from this Chinese region. In response, Beijing retaliated with sanctions against a dozen European personalities, including five elected members of the European Parliament, accused of “spreading lies”.

The ratification of the ILO conventions therefore puts an end to these sanctions and a lick of varnish on relations between Westerners and Chinese, while Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, must go to the Middle Kingdom next month. A visit to Xinjiang is planned during this visit.

source site