By on March 2, 2020

In a report that harkens back to the grim days of World War 2-era Germany, several automakers are accused of benefiting from forced labor.

An Australian think tank claims upwards of 80,000 Uighurs, a persecuted ethnic minority in northwest China, have been transported from state-run re-education and internment camps to the factories of Chinese suppliers. Among the companies said to benefit from the forced labor are Apple, Sony, Nike, Volkswagen, BMW, and General Motors.

The report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) details the recent “graduation” of many Uighurs from the camps. Some 1.5 million members of the Muslim minority are believed to be housed in camps in the remote Xinjiang region — facilities China claims are necessary to combat religious extremism and foster societal integration. Most outside observers call them indoctrination facilities.

“The ‘re-education’ campaign appears to be entering a new phase, as government officials now claim that all ‘trainees’ have ‘graduated.'” the report reads. “There is mounting evidence that many Uyghurs are now being forced to work in factories within Xinjiang. This report reveals that Chinese factories outside Xinjiang are also sourcing Uyghur workers under a revived, exploitative government-led labour transfer scheme. Some factories appear to be using Uyghur workers sent directly from ‘re-education camps.'”

ASPI claims that, since 2017, 80,000 or more Uyghur workers were sent from the camps to 27 factories — supplying 83 brands — under a state program called “Xinjiang Aid.”

While the government calls the practice “vocational training,” ASPI claims, “It is extremely difficult for Uyghurs to refuse or escape these work assignments, which are enmeshed with the apparatus of detention and political indoctrination both inside and outside of Xinjiang. In addition to constant surveillance, the threat of arbitrary detention hangs over minority citizens who refuse their government-sponsored work assignments.”

Local governments and brokers are reportedly paid a price per head to take on the new labor.

“In the first case study, a factory in eastern China that manufactures shoes for US company Nike is equipped with watchtowers, barbed-wire fences and police guard boxes.”

By all reports, a community college work placement this ain’t.

In addition to the automakers mentioned above, Mercedes-Benz, Geely Auto, MG, and Mitsubishi are listed as using suppliers “employing” Uyghur labor. Geely, BAIC Motor, and General Motors have ties to O-Film Technology CO. LTD, a manufacturer of camera modules and touchscreen components. Highbroad Advanced Material Co. LTD claims VW, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Jaguar Land Rover as customers for its backlight modules and LCD components.

China’s Foreign Ministry rejected the claims, calling the report a “smear” and a product of U.S.-led anti-China propaganda.

Volkswagen was quick to reject the claim that it benefits from forced labor. The automaker, which sold more than 3.1 million vehicles in the country in 2019, told media that none of the companies listed in the report is a direct supplier.

From German newspaper Deutsche Welle:

When asked about the concerns raised in the report, Volkswagen told news agencies that none of the listed companies is currently a direct supplier. In a statement, the German automaker said it holds “direct authority” in all areas of its business and “respects minorities, employee representation and social and labor standards.”

[Image: Xujun/Shutterstock]

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21 Comments on “Report of Forced Labor Has Automakers on the Defensive...”

  • avatar

    Volkswagen? The People’s Car, again.

    Also, I’ll bet the ASPI is surprised to learn they’re “U.S.-led”.

    • 0 avatar

      ASPI is probably not surprised to be lumped in with US “propaganda” by China. One of the features of totalitarian governments is they have no idea how the free world works.

      Totalitarians think all press is government-owned, including entertainment, and blames any critical press/TV, even comedy shows, on the US government.

      The exception is when the US government is Republican and the US press in opposition, in which case the totalitarians believe there’s an internal power struggle going on.

  • avatar

    GM cost reduction plan, the finest thinking to come out of Harvard Business School. Once you ship all your production out of the USA, then have the American tax pay bail you out of your failed business model; use the power of the police state of the dictatorial government that you sold your soul to enslave its population to make you even cheaper parts.

    The quality of GM components is about as good as it gets with forced labor, corrupt managerS, shady political overseers, and short term thinking American based executives. GO GM! How anyone could buy their products baffles me as a even casual news consumer.

  • avatar

    The Supreme Court of Canada just ruled that a Canadian based mining company with mines abroad can be sued in Canada for human rights abuses and what amounts to slavery.
    That is one way to make corporations accountable. They “offshore” manufacturing or mine abroad to exploit lax labour and safety laws as well as lax environmental regulations.

    • 0 avatar

      Canada has become much more liberal than the US. Don’t expect SCOTUS to make a similar ruling.

      • 0 avatar

        @Lorenzo – Most of the democratic world is much more liberal than the USA. Bernie Sanders would be a centrist in most European, Scandinavian, or former British Empire colonies.

        • 0 avatar

          I vote for Bernie this Tuesday.

          • 0 avatar

            I haven’t been keeping current on politics. The last I heard, DJT was going to be impeached by Christmas 2019, removed from office and replaced by… runner-up in the last election? (Not sure how this works. Is the Constitution involved or do we go with popular opinion?)

            I could use a reassuring quote from President Hillary regarding the coronavirus right now. Someone catch me up?

          • 0 avatar

            I think DJT is still in the office but not sure. Do not know for sure since I do not watch TV. But I know that establishment now claims that Bernie is colluding with Putin. Go figure – Putin appears to be a very powerful man who decides who will be the next leader of free world and it appears that this time it will be Bernie like Democrats it or not.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @LouBC, Yes Nevsun Resources v Araya. A break from tradition for a common law nation.

      It will be interesting to see the fallout from this over the remainder of the decade.

      Don’t know why we are surprised by this. Capitalist organizations have benefited from forced/indentured labour for time immemorial. Be it in Nazi Germany, or African colonies.

  • avatar

    “80,000 or more Uyghur workers were sent from the camps to 27 factories”

    But may be, they are given a choice – work or stay at the camp. Thye are probably get some pay for it too.

    You can’t trust anyone, not China, not so called “think tanks”. Generally, a think tank is another name of government propaganda agency.

    • 0 avatar

      All they had to do was parrot the government propaganda and they could have stayed out of their concentration, err re-education camps.


      • 0 avatar

        That only works before you’re arrested. Mouthing the party line is what you do to avoid incarceration. Once you’re in a re-education camp/gulag, it’s too late.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      Ah, the old ‘slaves were better off before emancipation’ argument.

      A classic!

      • 0 avatar

        No, the point is, verify the info first. Then make a claim. There were too many already unverified situations. Vietnam, Iraq as obvious. Wars based on a false claim. Moreover, nobody wanted to verify anything

    • 0 avatar

      “But may be, they are given a choice – work or stay at the camp”

      You have to be kidding. Never heard about Gulag?

      • 0 avatar

        GULAG is way blown out of proportion. For the period of its existence, it hosted less people than same period in US prisons, with wast majority of prisoners being true criminals. But thanks to popularity of books and movies in the 1990s it now seems [for many people anyway] like it was full of political prisoners, which is false. With KGB papers coming out due to expiration, we now know a better picture.

  • avatar

    Life long Apple user, but increasingly disillusioned by Tim Cooks hypocrisy in using forced labour in China while promoting victimhood culture in the US.

    • 0 avatar

      If you’re going to go Android make sure to sideload Blokada and Youtube Vanced as well; you’ll wonder why you ever stuck with iOS once you do that.

  • avatar

    And what, US prisoners in jail don’t work for private corporations? Making b*gger all?

    People in US glass houses love to throw bricks.

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