“If you bought a car in the last five years, some of its parts were probably made by Uyghurs and others were forced to work” in China, says a study from the British University of Sheffield Hallam. Steel, aluminum, batteries, electronics. China gives them without a problem. At the price of forced labor of the Uighurs. It “significantly intervenes” in the supply chain of global car manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Tesla, Ford and GM, Toyota and Honda, Stellantis in its brands Fiat, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep , underline the four authors of this study published on Tuesday, after six months of investigation.
The survey is part of a series of studies conducted by the university documenting the use of forced labor in Xinjiang in many industries, from PVC building materials to solar panels. The study specifically states that “the world’s largest producers of steel and aluminum have moved to the Uyghur region thanks to subsidies and incentives from the Chinese government”. Academics say they rely on sources such as company annual reports or websites, but also Chinese government guidelines and state media as well as customs records.
laughinglegal, ethical and reputational risk according to the study
The American auto union UAW reacted immediately by “urgently asking the auto industry to move its entire supply chain out of the region” of Xinjiang, where many Uyghurs live. General Motors stressed in a message to AFP: “We actively monitor our global supply chain and conduct extensive reviews, especially when we identify or become aware of potential violations of the law, our agreements or our policies”.
According to the researchers, the automakers indicated that “deep supply chain traceability is unattainable and understanding the situation in the Uyghur region is a challenge.” The auto industry must guarantee the traceability of its supply chains to “ensure that it is not complicit in the forced labor regime”, otherwise it runs “a huge legal, ethical and reputational risk”, the academics replied. China categorically denies any persecution of this Muslim minority.
China controls the electric vehicle component chain
The question is all the more important because China dramatically controls the global supply chain of parts for electric vehicles. The former Middle Kingdom controlled 60% of raw materials and refined 80%, according to a consensus of experts. China also produces 80% of the magnets used in electric motors and 90% of all electric motors themselves. It has a virtual monopoly on batteries. “Two-thirds of large battery factories will still be located in China in 2030”, even predicts Philippe Varin, ex-CEO of PSA in a public report on securing supplies.
China controls “75% of the global battery production chain, 50% of the total value of an electric model”, warned Luc Chatel, president of the French Automotive Platform. And now, the Chinese are also exporting their cars to Europe. The most aggressive of them, MG, sold more than 50,000 cars in Europe alone last year. But the subsidiary of the powerful SAIC group announced in mid-September that it intended to at least double its sales every year in the Old Continent. Mostly electric cars. A plant is under study in the euro zone.
French justice opened an investigation in June 2021 for “covering up crimes against humanity” targeting four textile giants, including Inditex and Uniqlo, accused of profiting from the forced labor of Uyghurs in China. The US Senate unanimously approved in July 2021 a bill banning the import of products made in Xinjiang to condemn “forced labor” in this region of northwestern China.