Volkswagen: Stop using Uyghur forced labor

Pablo Di Si, Hans Dieter Pötsch and Oliver Blume, Volkswagen AG

Who are the Uyghurs and why do they need our help?

People belonging to ethnic, cultural, and religious groups in northwestern China, including Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Hui, are currently the target of the largest organized detention of an ethno-religious minority the world has seen since World War II. Since 2017, over one million have been detained. Detainees are made to work under constant surveillance, with assigned minders and no freedom to leave. Their forced labor contributes to the production of goods for numerous multinationals. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), as many as 28 million people are victims of this system and the U.S. State Department has determined that China's treatment of the Uyghurs is genocide.

Have you bought a car recently?

If you have purchased a vehicle over the last five years, the chances are good that at least part of it was made by Uyghur slave labor. Recently, Sheffield Hallam University released the report, "Driving Force," that exposes the global auto industry's complicity in the detention and exploitation of millions of Uyghurs in China.

How is the auto industry profiting from Uyghur slave labor?

Uyghur labor produces just about every car part you can imagine. Tires, windows, the frame, axels, interiors, electronics, and even the hood decal are all made by forced labor. Moreover, the Chinese government has moved its steel production and other mining operations to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR or Uyghur Region). Some of the world's largest steel producers operate in Xinjiang.

Car companies (and others) rely on this kind of labor because it is cheap. China's labor and environmental standards are much lower than in other countries. It is up to consumers to demand they stop using forced labor for their products.

Why signal out Volkswagen AG?

VW (as SAIC Volkswagen Automotive Co, Ltd.) the first car company to put a plant in Xinjiang. According to "Driving Force," the company was "by far the most significant auto manufacturer in the region; in 2015, SAIC-VW accounted for 98% of total car production in the Uyghur Region. With an increase in automotive manufacturing in the region, SAIC-VW had dropped to a still significant 79% of all cars manufactured in the region in 2019."

Oliver Blume became VW's new CEO in September and he promised to both continue its operations in the Uyghur region AND provide good, well-paid jobs. These are unlikely to go to Uyghur workers as one recent job listing specified positions were for Han men. VW seems intent on using labor and materials from Xinjiang and doesn't care what the world thinks about it.

VW is the largest car manufacture on the planet. VW is the largest car manufacture on the planet. What they do impacts everyone else. If they say, "No. We won't use slave labor," other companies will take note. We need them to stop using slave labor for their own products and show the world that human rights matter.

The U.S. Senate is looking into the situation:

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) has sent letters to eight major car companies to determine their use of #ForcedLabor from the Uyghurs. In his letter to the car giant, he wrote, "Unless due diligence confirms that components are not linked to forced labor, automakers cannot and should not sell cars in the United States that include components mined or produced in Xinjiang. The United States considers the Chinese government’s brutal oppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang an 'ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity.'"

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To: Pablo Di Si, Hans Dieter Pötsch and Oliver Blume, Volkswagen AG
From: [Your Name]

​People belonging to ethnic, cultural, and religious groups in northwestern China, including Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Hui, are currently the target of the largest organized detention of an ethno-religious minority the world has seen since World War II. Since 2017, over one million have been detained. Detainees are made to work under constant surveillance, with assigned minders and no freedom to leave. Their forced labor contributes to the production of goods for numerous multinationals. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), as many as 28 million people are victims of this system and the U.S. State Department has determined that China's treatment of the Uyghurs is genocide.

Volkswagen AG is the largest car manufacturer on the planet. It is unacceptable for you to profit from Uyghur slave labor. Your company's past support of the Nazi regime that murdered six million people should make you more, not less, concerned about the message you send to other car companies and the global community.

We ask you to stop manufacturing your cars in Xinjiang, China. We further ask that the materials for your vehicles come from other places where people are free to exercise their fundamental, human rights.

The world is watching. Will you stand up for human rights and for the Uyghurs?