- A new report has found “extensive and pervasive” links between major car companies and China’s Xinjiang region.
- The Chinese government has been accused of human rights violations in the region.
- Similar allegations have been made against Apple, Amazon and Nike in the past.
If you recently bought a car, some of its parts may have been made with forced labor in China.
That was the key finding of a six-month investigation by researchers at Britain’s Sheffield Hallam University. In a new report, researchers say their analysis of publicly available documents reveals “extensive and expanding links” between major car companies and China’s Xinjiang region, where evidence of human rights abuses by the Chinese government against Uyghur Muslims, including coercion, has been found. Labor, government surveillance, forced sterilization, and re-education camps. Some called it ‘genocide’.
The 78-page report says that “every major car brand” — including Ford, GM, Tesla and Toyota — is at “high risk” of sourcing parts from companies linked to these human rights abuses.
Laura Murphy, the team’s lead researcher, told The New York Times, “There was no part of the vehicle we studied that was disabled by Uyghur forced labor.” “It’s an industry-wide problem.”
A year ago, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was signed into law, which banned U.S. imports of goods made in whole or in part in the Xinjiang region, unless companies could prove they were not using forced labor. Since taking effect in June, customs officials say they have stopped 2,200 shipments — valued at more than $728 million — from entering the United States.
Car companies contacted by The Times “did not dispute the report,” but said they were committed to ensuring their supply chains were free of human rights abuses. The insider has reached out to Ford, GM, Tesla and Toyota for comment.
In a statement, GM said, “We actively monitor our global supply chain and conduct extensive due diligence, particularly where we identify or become aware of potential violations of the law, our contracts or our policies,” adding that its Supplier Code of Conduct clearly Prohibits any forced labor or abusive treatment of workers.
Ford, Tesla and Toyota did not respond as of press time.
“It’s not impossible to audit one’s supply chain to identify risks.”
Auto industry supply chains are “closer to a ball of spaghetti than a linear chain,” Simon Cromm, professor of supply chain management at the University of San Diego, told Insider. The average automaker may have links to 18,000 suppliers, their direct suppliers, those suppliers’ suppliers, and more.
The report by Sheffield Hallam listed around 200 companies in China and around the world with potential links to Xinjiang, where steel, copper, aluminium, batteries and other components are produced.
Croom, who previously worked for Jaguar and wrote his PhD thesis on auto supply chains, said he believes many supply chains – both in the car industry and elsewhere – are linked to forced labor in the region.
“I have no doubt that many supply chains have forced and slave/sweat labor at their upstream level,” he said, “and it’s very clear that the auto industry is one such example.”
Per Chrome, although many companies claim they don’t have complete insight into their supply chain, “it’s not impossible to audit one’s supply chain to identify risks.”
“There is no reason why auto manufacturers or other OEM companies cannot verify their supply lines,” he said, “and I firmly believe that lack of transparency is a thing of the past and thus OEMs are deliberately ignoring such abusive suppliers.”
Susan Golicic, however, a supply chain professor at Colorado State University who previously worked at Chrysler, said that while she could not speak specifically to the report’s claims, it can be challenging for companies to have a full understanding of their extensive supply chain.
“When suppliers are outside the third tier, it’s often difficult for OEMs to keep track of what they’re doing, as well as who and where,” he told Insider. “Some suppliers may be too small and lack the technology to provide easy communication or transparency at the front end of the supply chain.”
In response to supply chain challenges during the pandemic, many companies have taken steps to “onshore”, “friendshore” or “nearshore” – parts of their supply chains back to the US, politically allied countries. Countries that are geographically close.
But while these changes may provide companies with more transparency in their supply chains, many are likely to maintain global exposure for decades to come.