The house in Zrenjanin where the Vietnamese workers in Serbia live. November 2021. Photo: A11/ Sara Nikolic
The European Parliament on Thursday adopted a resolution voicing its concern over “forced labour in the Chinese Linglong factory and environmental protests in Serbia, with 586 votes in favour, 53 against and 44 abstentions.
It stressed the parliament’s concern over allegations of forced labour, human rights violations and the trafficking of around 500 Vietnamese people to the Chinese-owned Linglong Tire factory construction site in Zrenjanin, northern Serbia.
The resolution “urges the Serbian authorities to investigate the case carefully and ensure respect for fundamental human rights in the factory, especially labour rights, to provide the EU with the results of its investigations, and to hold the perpetrators to account”.
Noting that Serbia is “granting China and Chinese industrialists more and more legal privileges in the country, even when these are contrary to EU law,” the MEPs also express concern over Chinas increasing influence in Serbia and across the Western Balkans in general.
They call on Serbia as an EU candidate country to “improve alignment with EU labour law and to comply with the relevant International Labour Organization conventions it has ratified”.
Serbian NGOs raised concerns in November about the possible human trafficking and exploitation of Vietnamese workers who were employed to build the first Chinese car tire factory in Europe.
They alleged that the workers’ passports had been confiscated and that they had been housed in dirty, cramped dormitories, with only two toilets for 500 men and little clean, warm water.
Although Serbia’s authorities insisted their working conditions were OK, aBIRN investigation showed that the terms of contracts the Vietnamese workers signed with subcontractors of Chinas Shandong Linglong Tire Co, violated Serbian labour laws, from working hours to vacations and financial penalties.
Before travelling to Serbia, the workers had to sign a number of documents with an intermediary Vietnamese company, so-called “commitment forms”, which falsely explained working traditions and laws in Serbia, while also putting most of the obligations on the workers and few on the employer.
Experts claimed that this case was not only evidence of severe labour exploitation but also possible evidence of human trafficking.
The EP resolution also mentioned concerns over “increasing violence by extremist and hooligan groups against peaceful environmental demonstrations in the country”, referencing recent protests in Serbia against the Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tintos projected lithium mine, and protests over the laws on Expropriation and Referendum.
Protests were held across Serbia against the rushed adoption two laws. One of these laws is seen as opening up the door for controversial foreign investment projects that could have a potentially harmful impact on the environment.
The resolution “regrets the amount of force used by the police against demonstrators”.
Protests over possible pollution from the planned Lithium mine threatened to become a challenge to President Vucic’s authority and that of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party.
During the protesters’ first road blockades on November 27, dozens of protesters were arrested, while videos showed unprovoked police violence.
Masked hooligans from the ruling party attacked protesters using sticks, hammers, and even the bulldozer in the town of Sabac. The opposition called the violence a coordinated attack and a defeat for the rule law in the country.
State support for Mladic mural protectors condemned
The same resolution also condemned the role of hooligan organizations in the protection and maintenance of the mural of Ratko Mladic, a convicted war criminal, in Belgrade. It also expressed concern at the apparent inability of authorities to remove the mural permanently in accordance with both the tenants’ wishes and official municipal decisions.
A mural with Ratko Mladic’s face appeared in Vracar municipality, Belgrade, in July. The municipal inspection service ordered residents to remove the mural in September, but no company was interested.
In November, two attacks were made on the mural with eggs and one with white paint. Police arrested two women activists in the first attack. Right-wingers cleaned up after each incident. The same happened on December 9, as Vracar announced that the mural had been removed. However, it was cleaned up by young men in less than two hours.