Senate probe finds forced labor ties in automakers' imports

Washington DC - A congressional investigation released Monday found that carmakers BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volkswagen had used components from a Chinese supplier banned in the US over alleged forced labor ties.

A congressional investigation released Monday found that carmakers BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volkswagen had used components from a Chinese supplier banned in the US over alleged forced labor ties.
A congressional investigation released Monday found that carmakers BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volkswagen had used components from a Chinese supplier banned in the US over alleged forced labor ties.  © CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP

The report by the Senate Finance Committee said BMW had produced and imported vehicles with parts "presumptively made with forced labor," while Jaguar Land Rover imported parts with the same issues.

VW made vehicles for the US market with such components, too, and has "ongoing business ties" to manufacturing in China's northwestern Xinjiang region, the report said.

Beijing has been accused of incarcerating over one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of detention facilities in Xinjiang – although officials strongly deny this.

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In the US, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) bans the import of all goods from Xinjiang unless companies offer verifiable proof that production did not involve forced labor.

"Automakers' self-policing is clearly not doing the job," said the Senate Finance Committee's Democratic chairman, Ron Wyden, at the end of the two-year probe.

He called on US customs officials to boost enforcement and "crack down on companies that fuel the shameful use of forced labor in China."

Carmakers respond to forced labor findings

Volkswagen disclosed earlier this year that a shipment of its vehicles to the US included parts made by a blacklisted supplier and arranged to replace the components before the cars entered the country.
Volkswagen disclosed earlier this year that a shipment of its vehicles to the US included parts made by a blacklisted supplier and arranged to replace the components before the cars entered the country.  © WANG ZHAO / AFP

The latest report looks into components from Sichuan Jingweida Technology Group Co, a firm added to the UFLPA entity list in 2023 over participation in business practices said to target members of persecuted groups like Uyghurs in China.

A supplier to the automakers was found to have sourced components indirectly from Jingweida, meaning these parts were barred from vehicles bound for the US market.

Volkswagen disclosed earlier this year that a shipment of its vehicles to the US included parts made by a blacklisted supplier and arranged to replace the components before the cars entered the country.

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"We acted as quickly and responsibly as possible to replace the part," said a VW spokesperson in response to queries.

The spokesperson added that VW is "committed to preventing the use of forced labor in our supply chain."

BMW was also found to have "imported thousands of vehicles intended for the United States that included parts banned under UFLPA," the committee said.

It added that BMW disclosed after questioning that at least 8,000 Mini Cooper cars containing such components were shipped to the country.

"BMW continued to import products manufactured by JWD until at least April 2024," said the report, referring to Jingweida.

In response to AFP queries, BMW said it has "taken steps to halt the importation of affected products and will be conducting a service action with customer and dealer notification for affected motor vehicles."

Cover photo: CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP

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