US imported cars tied to Uyghur slave labor, Senate report says

BMW, Volkswagen and Jaguar Land Rover allegedly put parts made by a blacklisted firm into their cars.
By Alex Willemyns for RFA
2024.05.20
Washington
US imported cars tied to Uyghur slave labor, Senate report says A worker makes car parts at a factory in Haian in China's eastern Jiangsu province on April 27, 2021.
AFP

BMW, Volkswagen and Jaguar Land Rover purchased car parts made by a Chinese company blacklisted by the U.S. government due to their use of Uyghur forced labor, according to a new congressional report.

BMW and Jaguar Land Rover continued to import the parts after the company was added to the Entity List under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, or UFLPA, and even after they were notified in writing about the issue, says the Senate Finance Committee report.

Volkswagen took steps to mitigate the issue, it says, but informed authorities in January that cars destined for the American market contained a part made by the Sichuan Jingweida Technology Group, which is also known as “JWD” and was banned in December.

“All three automakers claimed to be unaware that JWD was one of their tier 3 suppliers for the component until after JWD was placed on the Entity List,” the report says, noting that “complex supply chains can obscure the origin of products made with forced labor.”

The UFLPA Entity List currently lists 65 companies from which American companies are banned from importing parts due to their alleged use of forced labor of the Uyghur ethnic minority in China’s far-west Xinjiang province, where the U.S. government says a genocide is occuring.

The Chinese government denies the practice is occurring and says its “poverty alleviation” programs are being misunderstood as slavery.

Tainted supply chains

The report from the Senate Finance Committee, which is titled “Insufficient Diligence,” says that its chairman, Sen. Ron Wyden, who is a Democrat from Oregon, in December 2022 wrote to U.S. automakers about “alleged links to Uyghur forced labor within their supply chains.”

Wyden received responses that “revealed that companies generally could not trace their supply chains back to their origin,” the report says, with many relying on their suppliers down the chain to self-assess by filling in surveys that would later be evaluated by compliance software.

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US Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, speaks during a news conference on the House budget proposals, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on March 1, 2023. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP)

“This chain of self-assessment and surveys can cascade through twelve or more tiers of a supply chain for a particular component,” it says, noting the automakers acknowledged the method “depends on the truthfulness of questionnaires completed by subsuppliers.” 

BMW, Volkswagen and Jaguar Land Rover accordingly were “unaware” they were even using parts made by JWD until after it was added to the Entity List in December, the report notes, as the Chinese company made a single component of a part then sold to them by Lear Corp.

However, it adds that BMW “imported at least 8,000 MINI vehicles” after being informed in writing of the matter in December, and only stopped in April after repeated questions from the committee. 

Jaguar Land Rover likewise was informed in December of the UFLPA compliance issue and only stopped importing the parts in April.

In statements to The New York Times, which first broke the news of the report, both companies said they were committed to compliance.

“The BMW Group has strict standards and policies regarding employment practices, human rights, and working conditions, which all our direct suppliers must follow,” BMW said.

“JLR takes human rights and forced labor issues seriously and has an active ongoing program of human rights protection and antislavery measures,” Jaguar Land Rover said.

Changes needed

The report says the automakers’ purchase of the goods manufactured by JWD shows that “existing due diligence regimes” used by U.S. companies “are not sufficient” to prevent slave labor from tarnishing supply chains.

A “single inadvertent or bad-faith omission can conceal exposure to forced labor” when companies rely on self-assessment, it says.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force should accordingly “redouble efforts” to expand the Entity List, it adds, so that more companies are explicitly blacklisted.

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An SAIC Volkswagen plant is seen in the outskirts of Urumqi in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

Campaign for Uyghurs Director Rushan Abbas welcomed the Senate committee’s report but called its findings “profoundly disturbing.”

“It shows the grim reality: global corporations like BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volkswagen, continue to profit from the blood sweat and tears of Uyghurs in East Turkistan,” Abbas said, using the Uyghur term for the Xinjiang region of China where most of the ethnic minority live.

“It is crucial that these corporations be held accountable for their supply chains, ensuring they are not complicit in the horrors of Uyghur forced labor,” he said. “The world must prioritize human rights over convenience and profit.”

Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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