In Italy, lawyers file Uyghur forced labor complaints about tomato paste

Dozens of containers of tomato paste exported from East Turkistan (Xinjiang) to Italy are the subject of domestic criminal and international complaints filed by rights lawyers on behalf of Uyghur advocacy groups who allege that the goods were produced using Uyghur forced labor.
They were among 82 containers of agricultural products from China’s state-owned Xinjiang Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Investment (Group) Co., Ltd. shipped by rail and sea from Urumqi, capital of East Turkistan (Xinjiang), to southern Italy in late April, according to the plaintiffs.
The shipment also sparked outrage among Italian farmers who protested against the arrival of the cheaper processed tomato products from China in what they said were unfair imports.
East Turkistan (Xinjiang), a major producer of tomato products, accounted for at least 80 percent of the total tomato products produced in China in 2023, according to Chinese figures.
Uyghurs and other Turkic groups in East Turkistan (Xinjiang) have been persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party for decades, including being forced to perform labor that benefits state-owned companies.
Amid much fanfare, the containers transported by rail as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative arrived in Salerno, Italy, at the end of May, according to Italy’s StraLi, a nonprofit group based in Turin that promotes the protection of rights through the judicial system.
On May 30, StraLi filed a criminal complaint demanding that the goods be seized as evidence and that a criminal investigation take place on behalf of the World Uyghur Congress and the U.K.-based Lawyers for Uyghur Rights.
It also filed a submission to the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights on June 3, requesting a communication to the Italian government to seize the goods and investigate the companies involved in the importation.
New EU law
The move comes less than two months after the European Parliament approved a new regulation banning products made with force labor from entering the European Union. Uyghur advocates have praised the law, saying it will help clamp down on China’s use of forced labor in East Turkistan (Xinjiang).
The EU’s 27 member countries must approve the Forced Labour Regulation for it to enter into force and will have three years to implement it.
The groups have presented evidence from Adrian Zenz, senior fellow and director in China studies at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, highlighting the prevalence of forced labor products from East Turkistan (Xinjiang), the statement said.
StraLi lawyer Loide Cambisano, who’s in charge of the case, said this was not the first time that goods produced with Uyghur forced labor have been exported to Italy.
StraLi is seeking an immediate halt of the unloading of the tomato paste at the port of Salerno and a ban on its distribution in Italy, she said.

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