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Report alleges use of Uyghur forced labor in global auto supply chains

A report published this week finds that the supply chains serving the global automotive industry have been affected by companies that directly use forced labor or purchase raw materials and other products from companies that use forced labor in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. claim to be deeply intertwined.

A report titled ‘Drive Force’ written by a team of researchers from Sheffield Hallam University in the UK found that most automakers in the world use parts sourced directly or indirectly from the Xinjiang region. And governments around the world are severing their connections.

“[P]Virtually all major conventional and electric vehicle manufacturers are subjected to forced labor in the Uyghur region,” the report notes. Anything less than full tracking is a huge legal, ethical, and reputational risk. ”

The major US automakers did not immediately respond to the report. China has long denied the existence of forced labor in Xinjiang, amid substantial evidence supporting accusations by the United Nations, major human rights groups, and Western countries.

This report sometimes meticulously states that certain automotive elements (tires, seat cushions, batteries, electronic components, etc.) It shows how you can trace to companies that do A Chinese government program that forces Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region workers to move to other parts of China to work there.

By documenting the relationship between auto parts and Xinjiang, the report raises questions about whether automakers are complying with US law, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA).

“Amazing” in range

While VOA was unable to independently verify all the data in the report, experts who reviewed the report provide a clear picture of the automotive supply chain, which is heavily dependent on Xinjiang-related components. It looks like.

Karen Hendricks, an adjunct senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said the report was “amazing in its scope.” “It tells a complex story incredibly well, in a compelling and straightforward manner. It doesn’t have to be an expert, at least the segment that wants to break into the U.S. market.”

The report also has clear implications for other industries. Many of the auto parts associated with Xinjiang, such as steel, copper, aluminum and silicon, are basic inputs for countless other manufacturing sectors.

Professor Laura Murphy, one of the authors of the report, emphasized that point in an email exchange with VOA, writing: Calling out not only to the auto industry, but to all manufacturers who source steel, aluminum, copper, lithium and virtually everything else from China.Why wait for us to do another report? It’s time for companies to trace their supply chains to China.Raw materials.? ”

enforcement challenge

The UFLPA, signed into law by President Joe Biden in December 2021 and taking effect in June of this year, makes what is known as a “falsifiable presumption” that all or part of what is imported into the United States originates in Xinjiang. is producing. A product of forced labor.

This means that it is legal in the United States for importers to present “clear and convincing evidence” to only import items where the products were not manufactured with forced labor. Without such proof, the imported goods are subject to seizure by US Customs and Border Protection.

When the law came into effect, it was widely expected to have the greatest impact on some specific industries. Xinjiang, for example, is a major producer of both cotton and the polysilicon used in solar panels, so the clothing and solar industries were gearing up for significant disruption.

FILE - A worker collects cotton thread at a textile manufacturing plant, as seen during a government-organized trip for foreign journalists in Aksu, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in western China, on April 20, 2021.

FILE – A worker collects cotton thread at a textile manufacturing plant, as seen during a government-organized trip for foreign journalists in Aksu, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in western China, on April 20, 2021.

But the report suggests that far more industries may be at risk.

“This report, as far as it is accurate, shows that this is a broader problem for manufacturers, and really plagues the ability of companies to refute that presumption,” Hendricks said. By the time you get to the dealer lot of the Some of them have been contaminated by actual production in Xinjiang.”

The question that remains to be answered, Hendricks said, is whether or not U.S. Customs and Border Protection is ready to enforce the law if it is widely applied, as the report suggests. It means that you are ready.

Industry reaction

VOA has reached out to several major US automakers for comment on the report. Both Ford and General Motors didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

A spokesman for Stellantis, a Dutch-based global company that owns two major U.S. automakers, Chrysler and Dodge, said the company was “currently reviewing the report” and did not immediately comment. could not.

The National Auto Workers Union, which represents many of the thousands of workers employed by US automakers, has issued a statement condemning the use of forced labor.

“Forced labor and other human rights violations are unacceptable in the modern global economy,” UAW Chief Ray Curry said in a statement. “Now is the time for the auto industry to establish a high-street supply chain model that protects labor, human rights and the environment outside the Uyghur region. It is included.”

Chinese reaction

The Chinese government, as in previous years, has denied the notion that forced labor exists in Xinjiang, suggesting the allegations are a US hoax to hinder China’s growth.

FILE - Figures stand on towers surrounding Detention Center No. 3 in Daybancheng, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, western China, April 23, 2021.

FILE – Figures stand on towers surrounding Detention Center No. 3 in Daybancheng, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, western China, April 23, 2021.

In a statement issued in response to VOA’s request for comment, Chinese embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said, “As the Chinese side has repeatedly emphasized, the allegations of ‘forced labor’ in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are the first of the century. It’s nothing but a lie,” he said. “In the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region” is a lie deliberately invented and spread by the US to keep China out of global supply and industrial chains.

“under the name of ‘[protecting] “The United States practices unilateralism and protectionism, seriously undermining and violating market principles,” he added. [World Trade Organization] rule. The US approach is not conducive to easing global inflation and recovering the global economy. China will take necessary measures to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests, and resolutely protect the legitimate rights and interests of people of all ethnic groups in the region.

prompting government action

Driving Force report enacts new rules requiring governments to disregard practices of direct suppliers and prove forced labor is not included in any link of supply chain I am asking for

“Governments and legislatures should enact and implement mandatory human rights due diligence laws, recognizing that human rights violations can easily be kept away from direct suppliers under state-controlled economic systems, and that laws should be enforced by businesses. companies to address human rights risks beyond their first-tier suppliers,” the report said. “Law and enforcement should apply throughout the supply chain without exception.”

According to the authors, the data supporting their conclusions comes from “publicly available sources such as shipping data, corporate financial and media reports, journalism, state propaganda, remote sensing data, and maps.” .

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