UAW Wants Auto Industry to Stop Using Slave Labor

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
uaw wants auto industry to stop using slave labor

The United Auto Workers (UAW) are pressuring automakers to stop leaning on parts suppliers that use slave labor, specifically from China's Xinjiang region. Over the last several years, the area has continued to be a focal point for human rights groups due to the heinous manner in which the Chinese government has treated the Uyghur ethnic minority living there. This has occasionally encompassed criticisms for manufacturers that benefit from their labor. But a recent study has alleged that there’s not an automaker in existence with a supply chain that doesn’t utilize slaves to some degree, encouraging the UAW to strike while people seem to be paying attention.

“Forced labor and other human rights abuses are unacceptable in the modern global economy,” said Ray Curry, President of the UAW. “The time is now for the auto industry to establish high-road supply chain models outside the Uyghur Region that protect labor and human rights and the environment. This includes significant re-investments in good union jobs in the U.S.”

The report in question, Driving Force: Automotive Supply Chains and Forced Labor in the Uyghur Region, was released on Tuesday by Sheffield Hallam University’s Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice and documents the usage of slave labor in the production of steel, aluminum, copper, glass, electronic components, EV and lead-acid batteries, textiles, and just about everything else that might go into the construction of a modern automobile as it relates to Xinjiang. 

The paper asserts that forced labor is rampant within the region and that it would be impossible to guarantee that the goods coming out of it aren’t the result of slavery without massive impartial oversight being present. It also directly cites specific instances of slavery and notes that it’s frequently apparent in multiple steps (e.g. component manufacturing, mining, refining, pre-fabrication, and final assembly) of certain product chains. 

As a byproduct, having automakers rejigger their supply lines could mean more domestic jobs for the UAW. 

“As the automotive industry transitions towards electric vehicles, the new EV tax credit program and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) creates economic opportunities for the industry to bring manufacturing work back into the United States and create good union jobs,” Curry said.

The UAW wants the United States to lean into the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) that came into effect over the summer – something that’s supposed to prohibit the importation of any items that may have benefited (wholly or just in part) from forced Uyghur labor. But that could be easier said than done since we already knew some of the world’s largest automakers benefited from slave labor years before to the above study came out

While we like to think that slavery is a thing of the past, the truth of the matter is that there are probably more slaves living on Earth today than in any other period in human history. Since 2017, an estimated 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been held in large detainment camps in the Uyghur Region through government programs sanctioned by the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese government often references these sites as "vocational centers" (pictured below). But investigations have shown that residents are effectively treated as prisoners with widespread reports of forced labor, family separation, cultural erasure, forced sterilization, sexual violence, and generalized abuse. 

China is now building massive quarantine camps it has alleged would be necessary for the pandemic. It’s assumed that these sites will operate in a similar fashion to the Uyghur concentration camps and house political prisoners. But China is not the only country that’s guilty of unsavory labor practices and we’ve previously covered the questionable ways in which the raw materials are being mined for car batteries in Africa

“The U.S. government must devote the necessary resources to allow Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to effectively identify and ban the importation of products made with forced labor,” said Curry, “We also urge all global auto brands and suppliers to work together to immediately take meaningful, transparent steps to ensure its supply chains are not tainted with Uyghur forced labor. The UAW will work with allies and other responsibly minded stakeholders in the U.S. and around the world to help end these labor and human rights atrocities.”

Whether or not you're fond of the UAW as an organization, the related report is a comprehensive look into the heinous labor abuses taking place within the automotive sector and is well worth a read.

[Images: Daniel J. Macy; Azamat Imanaliev/Shutterstock]

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5 of 54 comments
  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Dec 08, 2022

    I wonder who really cares about this. "Slave labor" is a useful term for the agendas of both right and left.

    "UAW Wants Auto Industry to Stop Using Slave Labor"... but what will the UAW actually do if nothing changes?

    With unrelenting downward pressure on costs in every industry - coupled with labor shortages - expect to see more of this.

    Perhaps it's my fault when I choose the $259 cell phone over the $299 model, or the cheaper parts at RockAuto, or the lower-priced jacket at the store.

    Do I care about an ethical supply chain? Not really, I just want the product to work - and that's how most consumers are. We'd rather not know.

    Perhaps the 1990s notion of conflict-free, blood-free, ethically-sourced diamonds will find its way into the auto industry. That would be a good thing.

    • See 2 previous
    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Dec 09, 2022

      @Jeff S - I watched an interesting documentary about the diamond boom in Northern Canada. A geologist discovered a massive diamond and figured out exactly what geological formations contain enough diamonds to locate a mine. De Boers had managed to keep it a secret and thus protect their domination of the diamond market. That's no longer the case IIRC.

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Dec 09, 2022

    @Lou_BC--Diamonds are not really rare DeBeers dominates the diamond market and created the market with advertising starting in the 1930s thru the 40s. Before that time diamonds were for the most part considered for the wealthy and diamond wedding rings were not that common. Go back 100 years and most women wore wedding bands made of gold, silver, or other metals. DeBeers dominating the diamond market also controls the supply of diamonds keeping the prices higher by restricting supply. Sound familiar? Oil companies have learned to restrict supply of oil as well.

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