Efforts to combat forced labor should seek to address the issue globally, not just in certain countries, Bernd Lange, chair of the Committee on International Trade at the European Parliament, said on Friday, expressing skepticism about a new U.S. law that singles out China amid trans-Atlantic efforts to seek common ground on how to improve worker conditions around the world.

“We have to do more than we did in the past, but it should … not go in the direction of a political weapon,” Lange said about forced labor during a trade and sustainable development conference hosted by France.

The U.S.’ Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, signed into law in December, set in motion the establishment of new import restrictions on goods made in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where the U.S. has raised concerns about China’s treatment of minority groups. “This bill represents our country’s commitment to protecting human dignity and leading the fight against forced labor,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said when the Senate passed the bill.

“We have a moral and economic imperative to eliminate this practice from our global supply chains, including those that run through Xinjiang, China, and exploit Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities.” Lange, however, said he worries the China-focused law could lead to “a system” for addressing forced labor that treats countries differently and called instead for a strategy that is “valid for all countries.” Forced labor, he noted, occurs in countries other than China and “even inside” the EU. Lange also expressed support for “risk-management” approaches involving importers to help guard against what he called a “cut-and-go situation” in which investors pull out from countries “without any improvement of the situation for the people on the ground.”

He noted that the EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council includes a working group that covers labor rights, among other issues, and said he expects the group will discuss “the proper way to tackle forced labor universally.” Lange also lobbed criticism at the U.S.-Mexico Canada Agreement’s novel rapid-response mechanism for addressing worker rights issues at individual facilities a tool he described as “a one-way street, only directed towards Mexico.” [...]

[...] Lange expressed optimism, meanwhile, that he and Tai share a common understanding that “good wages and good working conditions are possible if you have really collective bargaining possibilities and strong independent trade unions.” He added that they spoke recently about labor conditions in Central America and expressed hope that the EU and the U.S., which each have trading agreements with countries in the region, would be able to “put our forces together” to improve those conditions. [...]