Lawmakers ask companies for information on their supply chains to help find any connections to China’s Xinjiang region
By Yuka Hayashi
December 22, 2022
WASHINGTON—The Senate Finance Committee has opened an inquiry into whether auto makers including Tesla Inc. and General Motors Co. are using parts and materials made with forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region.
In a letter sent Thursday, the committee asked the chief executives of eight car manufacturers to provide detailed information on their supply chains to help determine any links to Xinjiang, where the U.S. government has alleged the use of forced labor involving the Uyghur ethnic minority and others.
The U.S. bans most imports from the region under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. The letter to car companies cited a recent report from the U.K.’s Sheffield Hallam University that found evidence that global auto makers were using metals, batteries, wiring and wheels made in Xinjiang, or sourcing from companies that used Uyghur workers elsewhere in China.
According to that report, some car manufacturers “are unwittingly sourcing metals from the Uyghur region.” It said some of the greatest exposure comes from steel and aluminum parts as metals producers shift work to Xinjiang to take advantage of Chinese government subsidies and other incentives.
The U.S. ban on products linked to Xinjiang has already caused disruptions in the import of solar panels made there.
After locking up as many as a million people in camps in Xinjiang, Chinese authorities are destroying Uyghur neighborhoods and purging the region’s culture. They say they’re fighting terrorism. Their aim: to engineer a society loyal to Beijing. Photo illustration: Sharon Shi. Video: Clément Bürge
China has called Washington’s claim baseless. It disputes claims by human-rights groups that it mistreats Uyghurs by confining them in internment camps, with Beijing saying its efforts are aimed at fighting terrorism and providing vocational education.
Besides Tesla and GM, the letter signed by Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), was sent to Ford Motor Co. , Mercedes-Benz Group AG , Honda Motor Co. , Toyota Motor Corp. , Volkswagen AG and Stellantis NV, whose brands include Chrysler and Jeep.
GM said its policy prohibits any form of forced or involuntary labor, abusive treatment of employees or corrupt business practices in its supply chain.
“We actively monitor our global supply chain and conduct extensive due diligence, particularly where we identify or are made aware of potential violations of the law, our agreements, or our policies,“ the company said.
A Volkswagen spokesman said the company investigates any alleged violation of its policy, saying “serious violations such as forced labor could result in termination of the contract with the supplier.” A Stellantis spokesperson said the company is reviewing the letter and the claims made in the Sheffield Hallam study.
Other companies didn’t immediately provide comments.
“I recognize automobiles contain numerous parts sourced across the world and are subject to complex supply chains. However, this recognition cannot cause the United States to compromise its fundamental commitment to upholding human rights and U.S. law,” Mr. Wyden wrote.
The information requested includes supply-chain mapping and analysis of raw materials, mining, processing and parts manufacturing to determine links to Xinjiang, including manufacturing conducted in third countries such as Mexico and Canada.