A new report indicates that several major automakers, including GM, BYD, Tesla, Toyota, and Volkswagen, have failed to adequately address the potential risk of Uyghur forced labor within their Chinese aluminum supply chains.
In a new 99-page report titled “Asleep at the Wheel: Car Companies’ Complicity in Forced Labor in China”, Human Rights Watch asserts that automakers have not sufficiently mapped their aluminum supply chains to identify the potential use of forced labor. These risks are particularly high in Xinjiang, a region that is notorious for the use of labor transfer programs backed by the Chinese government wherein Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are coerced into involuntary work.
The report indicates that aluminum production in the Xinjiang region has increased from one million tons in 2010 to six million tons in 2022, making up more than 15 percent of the aluminum produced in China, or nine percent of the total global supply. Aluminum ingots from Xinjiang are mixed with other metals to produce aluminum alloys. Aluminum alloys are used throughout the car industry for a variety of different components.
The link between aluminum produced from forced labor and aluminum alloys is not always clear. In addition, ingots from purchased the Xinjiang region are sometimes bought and sold by commodities traders, which can obfuscate the connection further.
In response the Human Rights Watch report, General Motors issued a statement, saying, “GM is committed to conducting due diligence and working collaboratively with industry partners, stakeholders, and organizations to address any potential risks related to forced labor in our supply chain.”
Other carmakers argue that because they do not control their Chinese joint ventures, they are unable to address potential supply chain links to the Xinjiang region. According to Human Rights Watch, Volkswagen asserts that it is not legally responsible for human rights impacts in their joint venture’s supply chain under Germany’s supply chain law as the law only covers subsidiaries in which companies have “decisive influence.”
Meanwhile, Tesla, which operates a production facility in Shanghai, states that it has mapped is aluminum supply chain and found no evidence of forced labor.
According to Human Rights Watch, some car industry staff and responsible sourcing experts indicate that the threat of Chinese government retaliation has prevented companies from investigating Chinese suppliers and joint ventures about potential links to forced labor.