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Was your new car made with parts that used forced labour?

A fresh report has raised serious concerns over forced labour being used in cars sold by major brands.

A fresh report has raised serious concerns over forced labour being used in cars sold by major brands. Photo: Getty

A new report has raised serious questions about the use of forced labour in the supply chains of popular vehicles imported into Australia.

The United States Senate Finance Committee released its Insufficient Diligence: Car Makers Complicit with CCP Forced Labor report last month, detailing the use of parts in cars imported into the US that were made with forced labour in China’s Xinjiang region.

Many of the vehicles listed in the report are also available for sale or pre-order in Australia, including from companies such as BMW, Jaguar Land Rover and Volkswagen.

According to the report, BMW imported into the US more than 8000 Mini vehicles that included an electrical part made by a supplier banned for using forced labour in Xinjiang.

BMW sold 4289 Mini cars in Australia in 2023, but the company did not answer if those cars used the same parts listed in the report when asked by The New Daily.

BMW said in a statement there are “strict standards and policies regarding employment practices, human rights, and working conditions, which all our direct suppliers must follow”.

“All direct suppliers of the BMW Group are required to comply with applicable laws, standards and official rules and regulations, which includes prohibitions against forced labour.

“Our direct suppliers are also contractually obligated to implement these obligations with their sub-suppliers and to cascade them down the entire supply chain.”

Forced labour

Dr Michael Clarke, a senior lecturer at Deakin University’s Centre for Future Defence and National Security and an expert on the history and politics of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, said that while geopolitical rivalries between the US and China are at play in the report, there should be genuine concern about the use of forced labour in supply chains.

“China, in Xinjiang, is basically maintaining all those different elements of coercion, forced labour and reeducation camps and they are still ongoing,” he said.

“This is a system of coerced labour where people so-called ‘graduate’ out of re-education camps and then are placed into textile mills and factories to produce low-cost consumer goods and apparel.”

Uyghurs, a Muslim-ethnic minority group in China, have been subjected to conditions that “strongly suggest forced labour”, forced re-education in training centres and widespread detainment, despite international pressure on China to close camps and “refrain from the arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement of Uyghurs”.

The CCP claims Uyghurs are living a ‘free and normal’ life in the camps. Photo: Chinese TV

The Chinese Communist Party previously claimed Uyghurs were living a ‘free and normal’ life in the camps. Photo: Chinese TV

Ongoing problem

The US government introduced laws banning the importation of materials linked to forced labour in 2022.

Clarke said while Australia looked at similar laws under the Morrison government, interest in taking action has since stalled.

“They made a decision essentially not to support it because they suggested that there was already scope within existing legislation,” he said.

“This idea of self-regulation from industry, it’s a cop-out from the government once they decided it was in the too-hard basket.”

He said many industries and products use materials that are linked to Uyghur forced labour.

“The complexity comes from when you have companies that might be sourcing materials or even finished products from suppliers who are themselves getting supplies from Xinjiang,” he said.

“It’s going to be an ongoing problem for Australian companies, but also other companies around the world, when they get those materials.”

BMW did not respond to questions about whether any vehicles using the supply chains listed in the report were imported into Australia, but said that “the global automotive supply chain is intricate”.

“It includes thousands of tier-one suppliers and extends to hundreds of thousands of sub-suppliers,” BMW said.

“Despite this complex, challenging and dynamic environment, the BMW Group is committed to monitoring related risks and adapting our policies and procedures to ensure the BMW Group’s strict standards are met.”

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