OPINION: Volkswagen needs to be whiter than white on slave labour in China
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OPINION: Volkswagen needs to be whiter than white on slave labour in China

Dr Sheldon Stone and Mia Hasenson-Gross of Rene Cassin and Stop Uyghur Genocide urge companies operating in China to realise responsibilities to its persecuted Muslim minority

A demonstrator outside Volkswagen showroom, Southgate, London, protesting the company’s presence in the Uyghur region of China and its use of Uyghur forced labour.
A demonstrator outside Volkswagen showroom, Southgate, London, protesting the company’s presence in the Uyghur region of China and its use of Uyghur forced labour.

Protests have already begun.

A demonstrator outside Volkswagen showroom, Southgate, London, protesting the company’s presence in the Uyghur region of China and its use of Uyghur forced labour.

Recently Volkswagen’s Chief Executive in China, in a BBC interview, defended the decision to continue operating a car plant in China’s Uyghur region, where forced Uyghur Muslim slave labour is rampant, and up to 3M Uyghurs are detained in concentration camps. These human rights atrocities are part of what the Canadian Parliament, after evidential hearings, declared is a genocide, that includes  forced sterilisation of women and removal of nearly a million children from their Uyghur families to Han Chinese boarding schools.

Claiming that their best due diligence showed no use of forced labour, he accepted that one “could never reach 100% certainty.” He was correct in this, for not only does  research allege that  Volkswagen use Uyghur Slave Labour, evidence from the  Ethical Trading Initiative and the Fair Labor  Association, shows that, when it comes to the Uyghur region,  “companies cannot rely on normal due diligence activities to either confirm—or rule out—the presence of forced labor.”

A demonstrator outside Volkswagen showroom, Southgate, London, protesting the company’s presence in the Uyghur region of China and its use of Uyghur forced labour.

Restricted access, and  intimidation of workers being interviewed or of manufacturers compelled to participate in state employment schemes, in or even out of the Uyghur region, unfortunately render Volkswagen’s verification procedures unable to provide credible information. Indeed 5 supply chain auditing giants and the Better Cotton Initiative are refusing to work in this region. The most recent ETI and FLA directives to companies include “identifying alternative sourcing.” This has been heeded by H & M, Lacoste and Adidas, who left the region on ethical grounds and to prevent reputational damage.

Why don’t VW? For when it comes to reputational damage they have more at stake than most. The BBC asked if they had a moral obligation not to have a factory in a region with over 380  concentration, prison and labour camps,given their company’s Nazi Party origins, its use of Jewish Slave Labour, and its  operation of 12  concentration and labour camps, a history Dr Wollenstein  described as unacceptable. VW’s current contractual obligation is to operate under China’s National Intelligence Law 2017. This requires them to “support, assist and co-operate with state intelligence work,” whose agencies facilitate the arrest, interrogation and internment of Uyghurs in concentration camps through routine use of advanced digital and biometric surveillance. This too evokes echoes of their history under another totalitarian regime.

It is not only the distant past that puts VW at reputational risk, but the recent past, given their responsibility for the 2015 diesel emissions scandal.  So why would they not want now to be ethically whiter than white, avoid any chance of customers driving cars made with Slave Labour, by closing the  Uyghur region factory, re-siting it outside China!

This would live up to their “Strategy Together 2025”,  which stresses social responsibilities, and their code of conduct where “responsible conduct and (long-term) commercial success are not mutually exclusive, but actually foster one another.” They are right! Not only do the public like ethical companies, they  perform better.

Dr Sheldon Stone and Mia Hasenson-Gross

The Jewish sages say real repentance is achieved “when someone could repeat a violation but doesn’t”. The time has come for VW to do that regarding forced labour, by closing the factory in the Uyghur region.

Until they do, petitions and protests, already started outside one London showroom, will continue,  here and abroad, with immense reputational damage. But the kudos for showing moral leadership by leaving the Uyghur region could be even greater, and although it will never expiate the past, it may create a better future, not only for the Uyghurs but for VW. We wonder, would Dr Wollenstein like to meet us to discuss?

If any readers wish to volunteer to demonstrate outside Volkswagen showrooms, please contact sheldon.stone@uyghurcongress.org

  • Dr Sheldon Stone, Rene Cassin Human Rights Fellow Advisory Board, STOP UYGHUR GENOCIDE
  • Mia Hasenson-Gross, Executive Director of Rene Cassin, the Jewish Voice of Human Rights Advisory Board, STOP UYGHUR GENOCIDE

 

 

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