Volkswagen in Xinjiang
Responsibility does not end at the factory gate (Press Release)
The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) has accused Volkswagen AG of flimsy attempts to evade responsibility for the devastating human rights situation in Xinjiang/East Turkestan. In the media, Volkswagen's China boss Stephan Wöllenstein was recently quoted saying that forced labor was not an issue for Volkswagen. "However, the Volkswagen plant in Urumqi is not an island of bliss where members of the Muslim minorities and nationalities are not oppressed," criticized Jasna Causevic, STP expert on genocide prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. "Instead of speaking out for an end to forced labor and the liberation of the detainees, Volkswagen fabricated a code of conduct, the mere existence of which is apparently meant to whitewash the company." Thus, given the subservience of the company's management to the Chinese regime, it is at least questionable whether Volkswagen is willing and able to identify and prevent possible forced labor in its supply chains.
The automotive group's continued involvement in the western Chinese province supports the state's narrative of harmony and economic success in Xinjiang. "Of course, even in Volkswagen's executive suite, people know that children are being separated from their parents, that Uyghur women are being forcibly sterilized, and that hundreds of thousands are being forced to work in the textile industry and elsewhere," Causevic emphasized. "But in order to get in good with those in power in Beijing, automotive executives try to play down these crimes and sweep them under the rug whenever possible."
In this way, many companies from different economic sectors have made themselves accomplices of China's unjust regime. "Some companies comply with human rights due diligence on their own initiative – but Volkswagen is obviously not one of them," Causevic said. In February 2021, the German government agreed on a compromise regarding a Supply Chain Act, which would require all companies to take responsibility and ensure that their products were created under fair circumstances, but the law still needs to be passed by the cabinet and the Bundestag. An adequate supply chain law could significantly improve the human rights situation worldwide, Causevic stated.