Human Rights

Investigation reveals China using forced Muslim labour in car manufacturing

By Pakistan Forward and AFP

This aerial photo taken in 2021 shows newly produced cars lined up in Shenyang, China. [STR/AFP]

This aerial photo taken in 2021 shows newly produced cars lined up in Shenyang, China. [STR/AFP]

Academics and researches have revealed "massive and expanding links" between the car industry and abuses of Uighurs' rights in China's Xinjiang region, following a six-month investigation.

The probe at Sheffield Hallam University in Sheffield, England, found international supply chains "captive to repressive programs and systematic forced labour" in China.

The Chinese government has deliberately shifted mining and raw material processing and auto part manufacturing into Xinjiang, the team alleged after analysing publicly available documents.

"If you have bought a car in the last five years, some of its parts were likely made by Uighurs and others forced to work in China," their report, released this week, states.

"Analysis of publicly available documents revealed massive and expanding links between western car brands and Uighur abuses, in everything from the hood decals and car frames to engine casings, interiors and electronics."

It noted every major car brand is at "high risk of sourcing from companies linked to abuses in the Uighur region".

Many carmakers are unwittingly sourcing metals from the Uighur region, because metal trading companies own equity in Xinjiang smelters, the researchers said.

The team blamed a combination of weak enforcement of forced labour laws and Beijing's "blind eye to environmental standards" paired with convoluted supply chains for the situation.

Litany of abuses

Just last month, cybersecurity researchers said they had found evidence of Chinese spyware in Uighur-language apps that can track the location and harvest the data of Uighurs living in China and abroad.

The spyware enabled hackers to collect sensitive data including a user's location, contacts, call logs, text messages and files, the report said, and could also take photos and record calls.

For years, China has engaged in mass monitoring of Uighurs in Xinjiang, creating a province-wide surveillance platform that vacuums Uighurs' personal data from their phones and tracks their movements through facial recognition.

In August, a long-awaited United Nations (UN) report was published, detailing a string of violations of the rights of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the far-western region, and bringing the UN seal to many of the allegations long brought by activist groups, Western nations and the Uighur community in exile.

"The extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim groups ... may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity," the report said, using an alternate spelling of Uighur.

Accusations include mass incarceration, forced labour, compulsory sterilisation, systematic rape and the destruction of Uighur cultural and Islamic sites.

"Serious human rights violations have been committed in XUAR [Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] in the context of the government's application of counter-terrorism and counter-'extremism' strategies," the UN report said.

The assessment raised concerns about the treatment of people held in China's so-called Vocational Education and Training Centres (VETCs).

"Allegations of patterns of torture or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention, are credible, as are allegations of individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence," the report said.

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