ZRENJANIN, Serbia — China's Linglong Group finds itself on the defensive — again — in the wake of calls by the European Parliament on the Serbian government to investigate claims of human trafficking and rights abuses involving Vietnamese "guest workers" at the construction site for the Linglong tire factory being built in that Balkan nation.
The European Parliament's declaration is in reaction to media reports from Serbia — which is seeking entry into the European Union — and elsewhere that the Chinese company overseeing the construction of factory near Zrenjanin in northern Serbia was housing roughly 500 workers from Vietnam in near-squalid conditions.
In response, Linglong International Europe — the entity overseeing the factory project in Serbia — renewed its commitment to the environment and local growth in Serbia, declaring that Serbia's minister of construction, transportation and infrastructure Tomislav Momirović, had visited the construction site in Zrenjanin on Dec. 24, along with local mayor Sim Salapur.
"After the inspection, [Momirović] expressed recognition of Linglong's project management and mentioned that 30 regular on-site inspections and 20 special on-site inspections have been conducted in Linglong Europe so far," the tire maker reported in a prepared statement.
"The results showed that this was the most tightly controlled construction site in Serbia," the statement added, noting that minister reportedly said he was "satisfied with Lingong Europe's compliance with Serbian laws and regulations, and fully confident in jointly advancing the long-term development of Linglong Europe."
Linglong's statement did not address specifically the Parliament's concerns about the living conditions for the Vietnamese guest workers.
Linglong — the world's 12th largest tire maker — broke ground on the $990 million project in March 2019. The plant, with rated production capacities of 12 million car tires, 1.6 million truck/bus tires and 20,000 off-the-road tires a year, was scheduled to come on stream in the first half of 2022. '
According to the document, the Parliament:
- urges Serbian authorities to investigate the case carefully and ensure respect for fundamental human rights in the factory, especially labor rights, to provide the EU with the conclusions of its investigations and to hold the perpetrators to account;
- calls on Serbian authorities to allow free, meaningful and unhindered access to the Linglong Tire factory in Zrenjanin and the lodging facilities of the Vietnamese workers for NGOs, CSOs, EU officials and officials from other international organizations; and
- urges the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Serbia to closely follow up on these processes and the fate of the 500 Vietnamese workers.
The factory already is the subject of scrutiny from environmentalists, who have filed numerous suits to force the company to abide by Serbian environmental regulations. The Parliament raised concerns again about the plant's environmental impact, this time calling on Serbian authorities to provide internationally recognized Non-Governmental Groups and others freer access to the site for environmental scrutiny.
In its statement, Linglong added that it has "always been adhering to the idea of sustainable development and widely using the concept of green and low-carbon in the project design."
The European Parliament justifies its intervention in the matter largely because Serbia is aspiring to become a member state of the EU, and as such, it has to show it is implementing and complying with the criteria and common values required for accession.
Among the fundamental values considered are democracy, human rights and the rule of law and are at the heart of the enlargement, stabilization and association processes, the Parliament's declaration states.
European Rubber Journal contributed to this reporting.