Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked major automakers, including Tesla, General Motors and Ford, to provide details about their Chinese supply chains after a study found links between some car companies and Chinese entities in a region where U.S. officials say forced labor exists.
Wyden sent letters to eight automakers, asking how they map their supply chains to determine if any part is linked to the region where the Uyghur minority group has allegedly been abused. Wyden referenced the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last year and took effect in June. The bill says imports from China’s Xinjiang region should not be allowed into the country unless the importer can convincingly show the products weren’t made with forced labor.
Wyden told the companies the information he requested “will aid the Senate Finance Committee’s investigation of the effectiveness of trade-based efforts by the United States to combat forced labor and other serious human rights abuses in China.”
In a fact sheet published last year, the U.S. State Department wrote that the Chinese government has used surveillance technologies and criminal charges to help it “abduct and detain” over one million Muslims, including Uyghurs and other ethnic groups. The agency said there are up to 1,200 “state-run internment camps” in Xinjiang where forced labor is being used.
A representative from the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but China has previously denied the use of forced labor, despite findings to the contrary by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on contemporary slavery.
In the letters, Wyden referenced a report this month from the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University that found links between Chinese companies operating in the Xinjiang region and automakers that use their products.
The senator asked Tesla, GM, Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Stellantis, Toyota and Volkswagen how they track the supply chains of parts manufacturing in other countries like Mexico or Canada to determine if there are any links back to Xinjiang.
Wyden also asked the automakers if they have plans to exit the Xinjiang region and whether they have ever cut off or threatened to cut off a relationship with a supplier or sub-supplier over its links to the region. He requested additional information about any shipments to the automakers that were seized by border authorities.
GM said after the report that it monitors its global supply chain and performs due diligence, “particularly where we identify or are made aware of potential violations of the law, our agreements, or our policies.” The carmaker said it uses its supplier code of conduct, guided by the U.N. Global Compact, to “investigate issues, substantiate claims, establish the facts and act rapidly to determine the appropriate solution on a case-by-case basis, up to and including the termination of business relationships.”
GM also said it has a “robust” supplier code of conduct and terms and conditions that “clearly state our prohibition against any use of child labor or any other form of forced or involuntary labor, abusive treatment of employees or corrupt business practices in the supplying of goods and services to GM.”
A spokesperson for Stellantis said the company “take these matters extremely seriously,” and is reviewing Wyden’s letter and the study he referenced.
“Building strong responsible supply chains is an important focus for us,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We monitor our suppliers’ compliance with our Code of Conduct and respect for human rights by requiring contractual commitments and ongoing evaluation.”
A Honda spokesperson said in a statement that the company “expects our suppliers to follow our Global Sustainability Guidelines with respect to labor,” and that the company “will work with policymakers on these important issues.”
A spokesperson for Toyota declined to comment, noting the company just received the letter. Other automakers named in this article did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“I recognize automobiles contain numerous parts sourced across the world and are subject to complex supply chains,” Wyden wrote. “However, this recognition cannot cause the United States to compromise its fundamental commitment to upholding human rights and U.S. law.”