A recent report published by the association Human Rights Watch shows that major automakers likely use aluminum produced by Uyghurs. BYD, Tesla, General Motors, Volkswagen and Toyota are notably cited.
BYD, Tesla, General Motors, Volkswagen and Toyota are cited
In his study, Human Rights Watch claims five automakers could source aluminum from manufacturers that use forced labor. We can read that “ BYD, General Motors, Tesla, Toyota, and Volkswagen are unable to ensure their suppliers do not use forced Uyghur labor “. China is accused of developing labor transfer programs in which Uyghurs are forced to work in factories.
This is happening in the Xinjiang region, a desert area in northwest China. But also in other parts of the country. Xi Jinping’s government may even have committed crimes against humanity according to a United Nations report published in 2022. More than a million Uyghurs are believed to be detained against their free will. And so there could be a link between the aluminum used by these big five automakers and China’s forced labor programs.
Is the Chinese government’s fault?
However, the law is clear on this subject: importers of goods produced in Xinjiang must be able to prove that they were not manufactured using forced labor. When it comes to the controversial aluminum, it’s almost impossible to know exactly where it comes from given that it’s shipped to other parts of China and made into alloys. The global automotive industry sources 9% of its aluminum from manufacturers in Xinjiang.
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According to the authors of the report, foreign automakers have “ gave in to pressure from the Chinese government and allowed more lax control of their operations “. This increases the risk of forced labor being used in their supply chain. Jim Wormington, researcher at the association Human Rights Watchspecifies that ” Doing business in China should not mean using or benefiting from forced labor ».
Some brands cited in the report responded. This is the case of Toyota which says it wants “ take a close look at the report » and asks its suppliers to follow “ our example and respect human rights without violating them “. Volkswagen said its China subsidiary would “ immediately investigate any allegations of forced labor » and that she was looking for “ new solutions to prevent it “. The German operates a factory in Xinjiang as part of a joint venture with SAIC.
What solutions for car manufacturers?
However, there are possible solutions to encourage suppliers to be more transparent. Brands could require their partners to disclose their supply chains for several reasons. To identify forced labor (for example) or to quantify CO2 emissions in order to reduce them. Or simply source from foundries located outside of Xinjiang.
Western governments could also have a role to play. According to Human Rights Watch, Member States of the European Union should “ ensure that proposed forced labor regulations include a mechanism to restrict imports or exports to areas where forced labor imposed by China is pervasive “. Aluminum should also be the center of attention.
The European Commission could also introduce a presumption of forced labor “ for specific product groups, including aluminum, from countries or regions with a high risk of state-imposed forced labor “. This would ban the import and export of these specific product groups. Here are some things to think about in order to reduce the risks.
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