Automotive Giants Complicit in Xinjiang Forced Labor: A Human Rights Watch Crisis

A new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) reveals that major global carmakers, including Volkswagen, Tesla, General Motors, and Toyota, are using weaker human rights and responsible-sourcing standards for their joint ventures in China. This vulnerability exposes the companies’ supply chains to forced labor originating from China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, where more than one million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been subject to mass internment and persecution.

Xinjiang’s Aluminum Production and Its Connection to Global Carmakers

Approximately 15% of aluminum production in China is sourced from Xinjiang, making it a crucial link between the forced labor found among ethnic Uyghurs in the region and global car manufacturers reliant on aluminum for automotive parts. According to HRW’s Asleep at the Wheel report, several automotive giants have not taken the necessary steps to minimize this risk associated with their aluminum supply chain. The multiple layers between the car company and the aluminum producer create an opacity that often benefits these automakers as they can source materials without knowing their origin or risks linked to places like Xinjiang.

Evidence of Forced Labor Transfers in Xinjiang’s Aluminum Industry

  • Chinese state media articles present evidence linking aluminum producers in Xinjiang to forced labor transfers – coercing Uyghurs and members of other Turkic Muslim communities into jobs in the region as well as elsewhere
  • At least three aluminum producers or smelters in Xinjiang identified as either receiving labor transfers targeting Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities or being closely linked to the Xinjiang Production Construction Corps, which plays a significant role in the repression of Uyghurs
  • Three key players named: Xinjiang East Hope Nonferrous Metals, Tianshan Aluminum, and Xinfa Group Xinjiang

Despite international calls for Beijing to address forced labor accusations in Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch maintains that global carmakers have a responsibility under United Nations regulations to identify, prevent, and mitigate forced labor presence in their supply chains.

Inadequate Response from Volkswagen and Tesla

Volkswagen and Tesla admitted to having limited capacity in addressing their Chinese joint ventures’ supply chain links to Xinjiang. Volkswagen also claimed they are not legally responsible for human rights impacts in its joint venture’s supply chain, arguing that Germany’s supply chain law only covers subsidiaries where companies wield a “decisive influence.” The car giant currently holds 50% of the equity of its joint venture in China with Chinese automaker SAIC.

William Nee, research and advocacy coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, emphasized the importance of businesses clearly expressing concerns about forced labor issues to Beijing. He stated, “In an ideal world, businesses would make clear at the highest level that this is going be a problem unless businesses can have their staff conduct due diligence freely and ensure there isn’t forced labor in their supply chains.”

A Growing Crisis Demands Collective Actions

The recent revelations highlight how deep the issue surrounding forced labor in car manufacturing supply chains runs. With evidence growing stronger by the day, HRW’s report serves as a reminder that carmakers must work collectively to address these pressing matters proactively. Being more transparent in disclosing relationships with suppliers tied to Xinjiang and enforcing rigorous due diligence processes will be the first steps towards eradicating forced labor from their supply chains.

However, as long as these automotive giants continue to prioritize business interests over human rights and accountability, they remain complicit in maintaining an environment where forced labor thrives. It is up to governments, automakers, and responsible citizens around the world to keep them accountable and work relentlessly towards a future where #forcedlabor is not condoned or conveniently ignored.

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