Legal Memo on Chinese investments in Serbia Shows Weakened Rule of Law, Leading to Forced Labour and Human Rights Abuses

Human rights and forced labour allegations at Serbia's Linglong tyre factory.
Human rights and forced labour allegations at Serbia's Linglong tyre factory.
Allegations of forced labour and human rights abuses at Linglong tyre factory in Serbia.

Belgrade, 13 June 2022:- Ahead of this week’s European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) vote on Serbia, Just Finance International and Serbia’s Renewables and Environmental Regulatory Institute (RERI) today published a legal analysis detailing how a weakening of law and transparency in Serbia has provided loopholes for large scale infrastructure investments, including from China, leading to reports of forced labour and human rights abuses, along with impacts on human health and the environment [1,2].

The legal memo, which focuses on the legal framework in the Republic of Serbia – an EU candidate country, finds that that Serbia’s public procurement law weakens transparency and is open for abuse; and that the Serbian government often declares projects, particularly Chinese investments in polluting industries, to be of national interest so that it can apply laws more flexibly. China has increased in its investments and lending to Serbia in recent years. According to the memo, Serbian government authorities often attempt to avoid complying with requests for information in whole or part under the law on access to information. 

View more infographics on Chinese investments in Serbia

The EU parliament Draft report on Serbia on the 2021 Commission Report on Serbia (2021/2249(INI)) contains explicit references to several issues covered in the Just Finance/RERI legal analysis, including allegations of forced labour and human rights abuses at the Chinese Linglong tyre factory in Serbia. The report is scheduled to be voted on by AFET on June 14th, and by the EU Parliament on July 4th.

“The EU must ensure that the support given to Serbia is granted on condition that the country aligns with the specificities of democracy and rule of law and has in place clear commitments towards the EU accession process, and complies with EU laws and policies in the field of environmental protection”, said Wawa Wang, director of Just Finance International. “China and its companies that operate in Serbia must meet the minimum legal requirements for environmental impact assessment and demonstrate that they do not contribute to the weakening of the law or social harm before starting operations.” 

“It is important to understand that everyone has their role and responsibilities when it comes to prevention of environmental damage”, said Mirko Popović, Program Director of Serbia’s Renewables and Environmental Regulatory Institute (RERI). “Serbia’s government should provide a transparent and accountable framework related to decisions on projects of national interest, the inspection should utilize entrusted powers to their full extent and immediately order companies violating environmental legislations to implement technical, technological and organizational measures to remediate the sources and causes of pollution emissions.”

“Finally, the judiciary system shall use the mechanism of protection of public interest which can and should result in stricter sanctions for legal entities and responsible persons”, continued Popović . “That is the only way to ensure that we are living in a society in which the rule of law is the foundation of every governmental activity and that there are no privileged entities.”

Download: A Legal Memo on Chinese investments in Serbia

Infographics on China’s Investments in Serbia

Contact: 

Dave Walsh, Communications Advisor, +34 691 826 764 press@justfinanceinternational.org

Notes: 

[1] European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), vote on June 14 Plenary vote on July 4, 2022

https://multimedia.europarl.europa.eu/en/webstreaming/committee-on-foreign-affairs_20220614-0900-COMMITTEE-AFET

Draft report on Serbia on the 2021 Commission Report on Serbia (2021/2249(INI)) Committee on Foreign Affairs https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/AFET-PR-704604_EN.pdf

Rapporteur: Vladimír Bilčík

https://parltrack.org/dossier/2021/2249(INI)#/general

#19

“Reiterates its concern over the alleged use of forced labour and violation of human rights at the Chinese Linglong factory construction site;”

#34

“Reiterates its concern about Serbia’s growing dependence on Chinese investments and urges the Serbian authorities to improve the transparency and environmental impact assessment of Chinese investments;”

#37

“Expresses concern that Serbia continues to prioritise investments in new coal power plants; urges the authorities to adopt a strategy consistent with the European Green Deal’s zero emissions target for 2050 and the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans;”

#39

“Reiterates its concern at the high levels of air pollution and urges the authorities to speed up the implementation of air quality plans;”

[2] A Legal Memo on Chinese investments in Serbia

About Just Finance International

Just Finance works to ensure that the public budget spent globally on development and infrastructure finance is contributing to the advancement of sustainability for populations and the environment. https://justfinanceinternational.org/

About RERI

Serbia’s Renewables and Environmental Regulatory Institute – “RERI” is nongovernmental and non-profit organization, founded with the aim to achieve objectives related to promotion and improvement of rights to healthy and preserved environment, sustainable management of natural and renewable energy resources. https://www.reri.org.rs/en/home/