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New evidence of forced labor – Volkswagen under pressure

New evidence of forced labor – Volkswagen under pressure

A new study confirms that the Chinese government is employing millions of Uyghurs in government work programs. Products of Chinese forced labor also end up in Europe. The European Union now wants to ban it.

Cotton from Xinjiang: While the Chinese government seeks economic development and poverty reduction in the region, forced labor is likely to blame.

Wang Fei/Imago

It did not take long for the Chinese government to react. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Monday that “lies” are the new allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang aimed at destabilizing the Uyghur region and slowing China's development.

Last week, Xinjiang researcher Adrian Zenz got one New study It was published with evidence of the use of forced labor in government vocational training and poverty alleviation programs in Xinjiang. German carmaker Volkswagen, which operates a factory in Xinjiang, has also faced new allegations. Volkswagen operates a factory in Xinjiang and has been criticized for this. In the middle of last year, Volkswagen Group China's CEO told NZZ that there was no evidence of human rights violations or forced labor at the factory.

Volkswagen is considering withdrawing from Xinjiang

This looks different now. How is that According to the newspaper “Handelsblatt”.Forced labor appears to have been used in the construction of a large test track by Volkswagen with Chinese car manufacturer SAIC in Xinjiang in 2017 and 2018. Employees of the German car manufacturer had previously provided advice to researcher Zenz. Then he found relevant information in the documents of companies involved in construction.

In the wake of these leaks, a major investment fund ended its cooperation with Volkswagen, saying it was no longer responsible for investing in the company. Volkswagen said the company is considering a possible withdrawal from Xinjiang. At the beginning of February, the German chemical company BASF announced its withdrawal from Xinjiang Search by ZDF And dis Spiegel magazine. It revealed that employees of a BASF partner have been monitoring and intimidating Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Under the guise of vocational training and poverty alleviation

Allegations that Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities are being used for forced labor in the Xinjiang region are not new. In 2022, the UN Special Rapporteur in A a report He stated that there are two state forced labor programs in Xinjiang: first, vocational training programs that detain members of minorities and force them to accept jobs. Second, there is a poverty alleviation system through which Uyghurs are placed in government-mandated jobs. For this purpose, workers are also transferred to other regions in China.

Zenz confirmed in her study that these programs will continue and will continue until at least 2025. Forced labor is used in the construction, textile, electronics and solar energy industries, as well as in the cultivation of cotton, tomatoes and peppers. According to Zenz, more than 38,000 workers from Xinjiang were sent to other provinces in China in 2023 alone. In total, more than three million “labor transfers” took place in Xinjiang in the first three quarters of last year, Zenz wrote, referring to a report by the official Xinhua news agency.

The European Union wants to ban products made with forced labour

The European Union is seeking to address human rights violations in Xinjiang, which have now been widely documented. He has been in the European Parliament since October last year Legislative proposal Which wants to ban the import of products made with forced labor. In addition, the law should allow companies' supply chains to be examined for involvement in forced labor. A similar law has been in effect in the United States since the end of 2021.

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied allegations of forced labor, detention and repression in Xinjiang. State Department spokesmen noted that government programs in Xinjiang aim to combat extremism, separatism and terrorism as well as the economic development of the region.