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Volkswagen denies forced labour in Xinjiang region

Accusations come amidst the setup of a new car plant

By: Andrew Dobie

Volkswagen is facing stiff criticism over its ongoing production operations in the Xinjiang region of China; an area heavily implicated in reported widespread human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chinese State. Concerns stemmed from the company's CEO in China: Dr Stephan Wollenstein’s inability to give a certified assurance of not using forced labour, saying “I guess we could never reach 100% certainty”.

Hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other minority groups have reportedly been held in camps, with many allegedly coerced into forced labour in the region's factories. In spite of these reports, Volkswagen has refused to follow the example of several other multi-national companies in the region, who have since ceased operations there.

Founded in Germany by the German Labour Front (the labour organization of the Nazi NSDAP) in 1937, Volkswagen made heavy use of forced labour throughout WW2. Wollenstein did not deny what happened between 1937 and 1945 but disaffirmed the latest forced labour reports linked to the company’s factory in the region's capital Urumqi.

Photo courtesy of Erik Mclean via Unsplash

“We are making absolutely sure that none of our production sites have forced labour and this is something that we have specifically checked in Urumqi and I can assure you we have no forced labour” – Dr Wollenstein said.

"We try to control our company-related processes, including the HR process, which, for instance, means the hiring of people in the best possible manner." – he added.


Who are the Uighurs?

The Uighurs are a Muslim minority group, who align themselves culturally and ethnically with Central Asian nations. Up to 11 million Uighurs are said to live in the Xinjiang region, where China is reported to have detained up to 1 million people belonging to the minority. The camps have been labelled by some in international news as “re-education centres”, with forced labour being reportedly widespread.

Photo courtesy of 1343024 via Pixabay


In addition to these concerns, Volkswagen has been criticised for the process of setting up a car plant in the region. Setting up such an operation requires the partnership and approval of the Chinese State, which some have interpreted as showing the company’s implicit approval towards the heavily evidenced policies of mass incarceration and ethnic repression.

As its Chinese operations go from strength to strength economically, Volkswagen risks becoming ever more caught up in these reported systematic human rights abuses. At a time when international criticism from both national governments and multi-national companies is rising over ever wider reports of systematic human rights abuses of minority groups, Volkswagen’s future in China appears to be both rocky and uncertain.


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