Volkswagen’s feet held to the fire by Freedom United and partners

Volkswagen’s feet held to the fire by Freedom United and partners

Volkswagen’s feet held to the fire by Freedom United and partners

This week, Volkswagen held its annual general meeting and advocates, including the Freedom United community, had one required item for their agenda: providing a clear strategy to eliminate Uyghur forced labor from its operations and supply chains.

“Volkswagen’s ‘In China, for China’ strategy shouldn’t mean complicity in forced labor,” said Jim Wormington, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. He urged shareholders to demand robust measures to tackle this issue in Volkswagen’s supply chains.

Flawed audit and willful ignorance

Key materials used in car manufacturing, including aluminum, are produced in the Uyghur Region by companies linked to government forced labor programs. Nearly 10 percent of the world’s aluminum is produced in the Uyghur Region, with known participation in coercive labor transfers. The world’s biggest car companies are all implicated.

To date, Volkswagen remains among the few corporations that have not made significant efforts to distance themselves from the Uyghur forced labor system. Remarkably, the company continues to maintain an unprofitable physical presence in the Uyghur Region.

Volkswagen manufactures cars in China through joint ventures with Chinese carmakers, but has failed to adequately investigate potential links between its supply chains and forced labor. A 2023 audit of a Uyghur Region plant, operated by a subsidiary of Volkswagen’s joint venture with SAIC, was criticized for its superficiality.

Despite findings that indicated no forced labor, the audit’s credibility was undermined by the pervasive surveillance in the region. Additionally, a February 2024 report by Handelsblatt alleged that a contractor for a SAIC-Volkswagen subsidiary used Uyghur forced labor to construct a test track in the region. Volkswagen itself had to recently admit to US customs that a sub-supplier produced a part using Uyghur forced labor, leading to impounded vehicles while the part was replaced. However, Volkswagen did not confirm if the part was removed from vehicles sold outside the US.

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