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China: Volkswagen defends Xinjiang operations amid reports of human rights abuses

The German car giant has claimed its presence in Xinjiang has a positive impact despite reports of ongoing human rights abuses. VW is also facing accusations of using slave labor in Brazil under the former dictatorship.

Volkswagen's CEO said the company is not planning on leaving Xinjiang in protest against the treatment of the Uyghur minority

The CEO of German car manufacturer Volkswagenhas defended the presence of a Volkwagen factory in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, where Beijing has been accused of carrying out human rights abuses, during an interview with German newspaper Handelsblatt.

While several major corporations ended their operations in Xinjiang following US claims that China is committing "genocide" against the Muslim Uyghur minority, VW boss Herbert Diess said that the joint-venture partner SAIC Volkswagen would not close its factory there.

In comments published Monday, he said the company had been active in Xinjiang for years, but that the "small factory" there was economically "insignificant."

Asked whether VW would end operations in protest, Diess told Handelsblatt: "We could do that. But we won't, because we believe that our presence has a positive impact."

Calls for Germany to turn away from China

The interview comes shortly after the release of the "Xinjiang Police Files" which document the scale and brutality with which the Chinese state oppresses the Uyghur people. Beijing has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uyghurs.

German government ministers have called for Germany to reduce its dependence on China in response to the new details. China is one of Germany's largest trading partners.

Diess claims, however, that VW makes sure that its labor standards are abided by and that cultural and religious differences are respected.

He added that due to the company's history, VW takes the issues of human rights and freedom of speech seriously. Volkswagen was founded during the Nazi dictatorship under the patronage of Adolf Hitler.

"Of course, we disapprove of what's happening [in China]," he told Handelsblatt. "If we had evidence of wrongdoing at our facility there, we would take drastic action against it."

China is accused of forcing millions of Uyghurs into internment camps where they are forced to learn Mandarin and adopt a secular, pro-Communist Party outlook. Beijing describes the alleged detention camps as vocational training facilities.

Accusations of slave labor in Brazil

German media on Sunday also reported that VW is facing an investigation by Brazil's public prosecutors over accusations of human rights violations committed by the company during the brutal dictatorship that ruled the South American country in the 1970s and 1980s.

The investigation is looking into claims that the car giant used "slavery-like practices" and "human trafficking" with regards to an area where the company wanted to establish a large agricultural site on the edge of the Amazon basin for the meat industry.

Intermediaries dealt with hundreds of temporary workers with violent and abusive methods, likely with the consent of VW, according to German media reports.

"It was a form of modern slavery," Rafael Garcia, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation, told German media outlets. "VW had obviously not only accepted this form of slavery but also encouraged it, as it was cheap labor," he added.

VW said in a statement responding to the investigation that it was taking the accusations "very seriously."

ab/nm (AFP, Reuters)


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