Major players accused of using Xinjiang aluminum tied to forced labor

Major car manufacturers, including Tesla, General Motors, Volkswagen, and Toyota, are under fire after a Human Rights Watch report raised concerns about their potential use of aluminium produced with forced labour in China’s Xinjiang region.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has cast a spotlight on the murky world of aluminium sourcing in China, raising concerns that major car manufacturers might be unwittingly using metal produced through forced labour. The report alleges that aluminium used by companies like Tesla, General Motors, Volkswagen, and Toyota could be linked to the exploitation of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang region.

The report points to China’s labour transfer programs, which critics allege coerce Uyghurs and other minorities into factory work as part of a broader campaign of assimilation and mass detention. The United Nations has expressed concerns that these programs may constitute crimes against humanity, with estimates suggesting over a million Uyghurs have been arbitrarily detained.

Tracing the exact origin of aluminium used in car manufacturing presents a significant challenge. Once mined and processed, the metal is often shipped across vast distances and potentially mixed with aluminium from other sources, making it difficult to determine its exact provenance and ensure it wasn’t tainted by forced labour.

With the ever-growing popularity of electric vehicles, the global demand for aluminium is expected to surge in the coming years. This increased demand intensifies the need for ethical sourcing practices to ensure the metal doesn’t contribute to human rights violations.

While some automakers like Toyota and Volkswagen expressed commitment to ethical sourcing and announced reviews of the HRW report, others like Tesla and BYD have remained silent. The report also highlights concerns that foreign carmakers operating in China through joint ventures with state-owned companies might face pressure to loosen their ethical sourcing standards.

“The real purpose is to sabotage the prosperity and stability of Xinjiang and to curb China’s development,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, vehemently denying the allegations.

However, these denials come amidst the recent enactment of stricter religious regulations in Xinjiang, further raising concerns about the human rights situation in the region. The HRW report serves as a stark reminder of the complex challenges surrounding forced labour in global supply chains.

“Doing business in China should not mean having to use or benefit from forced labour,” said Jim Wormington, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. With pressure mounting from human rights groups and consumers alike, automakers will need to demonstrate greater transparency and accountability to navigate this sensitive issue

This incident underscores the complex challenges businesses face in ensuring ethical sourcing in global supply chains. Balancing ethical considerations with the realities of doing business in China presents a significant challenge, but it is one that the auto industry must navigate with greater transparency and accountability to uphold human rights principles.