New Evidence From the Xinjiang Police Files Spotlights Forced Labor Risk for Volkswagen
New evidence from internal Chinese documents released today by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) raises fresh questions about forced labor risk linked to Volkswagen’s operations in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang, where Beijing’s mass internment and forced labor of Uyghurs have been well documented.
The new release comes on the heels of Volkswagen publishing a controversial audit of its jointly-owned plant in Xinjiang, which found “no signs of forced labor” while noting that “data collection challenges [in Xinjiang are] well known.” Of the plant’s 197 employees, 47 are Uyghur.
The audit’s publication prompted immediate criticism from Volkswagen shareholders, researchers, and human rights groups, who note that on-site interviews of Uyghurs are not credible within Beijing’s systemically coercive environment in Xinjiang, and accuse Volkswagen of “audit-washing.”
According to new evidence from the Xinjiang Police Files — a cache of confidential files hacked from Chinese police computers by an anonymous third party, then analyzed and partly released by VOC last year — Uyghurs were sent directly from re-education camps into vocational training institutions that held job fairs with Volkswagen and advertise degrees with Volkswagen as a typical work destination.
One new police report from the Files shows that Uyghur victim Adiljan Hashim was detained in a camp in October 2017 then “released” in January 2018 into vocational training at Xinjiang Industry Technical College under highly controlled and pre-agreed conditions. On its website the college offers degree majors including automobile manufacturing, lists Volkswagen among examples of cooperation with companies, and advertises Volkswagen as an employer for its graduates.
A second police report from the Files shows another Uyghur, Ekpar Ablet, was detained in a camp in July 2017 and is listed as a student at Xinjiang Vocational University, a tertiary institution that also offers degrees in the automotive industry and mentions Volkswagen as a typical employer for graduates.
“The ramification is that re-educated and coerced Uyghurs can likely end up working for larger companies such as SAIC-Volkswagen in Xinjiang,” said Dr. Adrian Zenz, VOC’s China Director and Senior Fellow in China Studies who compiled the new evidence. “This risk cannot be ascertained through audits, since Uyghurs are not free to speak about camp or re-education experiences, or about other coercive and repressive state measures in their lives.”
Other internal documents such as the leaked Karakax List — which VOC analyzed and released in February 2020 — show two specific cases in which Uyghurs were sent directly from a re-education camp to vocational training schools in the Uyghur region of Hotan. One of them, the Hotan Vocational Skills College, offers a degree in automotive mechanics that was developed in Tianjin in collaboration with Beijing’s “Xinjiang Aid” program, which pairs regions in eastern China with minority regions and researchers have closely linked to Uyghur forced labor. According to media reports, over 20 companies based in Tianjin have technical cooperation with vocational training centers in minority regions such as Hotan, including Volkswagen’s joint venture for its Xinjiang plant.
“The notion that a Uyghur could speak freely to investigators during an audit interview in Xinjiang is patently absurd, given the obvious reprisals they would face for speaking the truth,” said Ambassador Andrew Bremberg, President of VOC. “After nearly seven years of Beijing’s mass atrocities against Uyghurs being documented in detail by researchers, companies like Volkswagen have no excuse, no ethical option other than to withdraw entirely from the region.”
“Companies that claim to respect human rights need to put action to their words when it comes to Xinjiang, and cease all cooperation in the region as soon as possible,” said Ken Pope, CEO of VOC. “They owe this not only to the Uyghur people, who have been suffering mass detention and genocide for years, but also to their own shareholders and consumers, all of whom are growing increasingly concerned that the car they bought could have been made by Uyghur forced labor, coerced by a criminal regime.”
The new evidence was first revealed at a conference in Berlin to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reported in collaboration with VOC by the online magazine Table China and German national television ZDF.
The Xinjiang Police Files are a cache of tens of thousands of confidential files hacked directly from Xinjiang police networks by an anonymous third party, and researched and partially released last year by Dr. Adrian Zenz and VOC in partnership with a consortium of 12 leading media outlets including the BBC, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, and El País.
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