EU must push for ethical standards with China

Europe's relations with China must include tackling environmental pollution and promoting ethical manufacturing, writes Davor Škrlec.

By Davor Škrlec

29 Oct 2014

China's economic growth is unprecedented, with a GDP of 7.7 marking it as the second largest economy on the world, standing behind only the US. Human rights and citizens' participation, however, have not enjoyed the same emphasis as economic development, causing divisions within Chinese society.

At the same time, environmental pollution and health risks create an explosive situation that affects the rest of the world. With 6018 million tonnes of greenhouse gases emitted per year, China is the world's number one polluter.

Pollution indicators in China have been reporting record high levels of air, water and soil pollution that are dramatically affecting the lives of Chinese citizens. China's pollution is not confined within its borders but travels across the world affecting the lives of billions of other people on every corner of the planet, since the effects of its extensively polluting industrial activities easily travel through air and water. In most cases the companies located in China are of European or US origin.

"Europe must be able to negotiate with China so that it will enforce uniform rules ensuring production and food safety for all"

According to a Reuters report from last December, nearly 3.33 million hectares of Chinese farmland are too polluted to grow crops. Nevertheless, many of the farmers are unknowingly ignoring the situation, still continuing to cultivate their products in heavily polluted land. This in turn means that many of the products that are being imported from China, such as rice, constitute a health risk for our citizens and require our immediate attention.

In 2008 we all bore witness to the Chinese milk scandal, which involved milk and infant formula, as well as other food materials and components, that had been adulterated with melamine. By November of that year, China reported an estimated 300,000 victims, with six infants dying from kidney stones and other kidney damage, and an estimated 54,000 babies were hospitalised. The chemical appeared to have been added to milk to make it appear to have a higher protein content.

Considering the vast amount of trade between the EU and China we have to consider that many of these "bad" batches of products end up in our populations' diets as well. China's corruption does not allow it to have an effective control and implementation mechanisms that safeguard the production line and guarantee the quality of its products. This by itself poses a risk to the health and wellbeing of both Chinese and European citizens, as past experiences have shown.

The EU leadership and its member states must not only learn from these experiences, but actually put in place an action plan to establish a formula of ethical manufacturing in Europe - one that respects the environment and promotes sustainable development.

We need to promote innovation and sustainable growth in Europe. We need to focus on SMEs and create the necessary conditions that will allow them to prosper in a sustainable way. Our greatest asset is our people, with their creativity, their business oriented minds and their striving towards high ethical manufacturing standards.

At the same time Europe must be able to negotiate with China so that it will enforce uniform rules ensuring production and food safety for all. China is definitely a rising power within the global political charter. However, such power comes with responsibility towards those which depend on it. We live in a global economy which means that one nation's negligence or failure can prove devastating for another.


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