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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Top EU official slams Volkswagen as ‘complicit’ in Chinese oppression


The chair of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with China, Reinhard Bütikofer, has slammed Volkswagen for not confronting China over its treatment of the Uighur minority in a region where the German carmaker has a factory.

China's crackdown on the Muslim Uighur community in Xinjiang is rapidly rising up the political and trade agenda. This week, a group of unions and nongovernmental organizations called on major brands like Nike, Adidas and Amazon to stop sourcing goods from Xinjiang.

While the U.S. has already introduced some sanctions over Xinjiang, Bütikofer complained that the European Commission is still resisting pressure to take action. He reserved his strongest criticism, however, for Volkswagen, which has a factory in Xinjiang's capital of Urumqi.

"Volkswagen ... is a company without a conscience," the Green lawmaker told POLITICO, adding that "companies like that are complicit in upholding a totalitarian hell in Xinjiang."

Bütikofer also criticized the carmaker for "denying any knowledge of the oppression of the Uighur people in Xinjiang."

He expressed particular annoyance over a BBC interview in which the company's then chief executive, Herbert Diess, said he wasn't aware of Chinese detention camps. "That’s anything but credible, it just didn’t want to get on the record with taking a stance," the German lawmaker said.

Bütikofer argued the company had been reluctant to react to a 2020 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute revealing mass transfer of Uighurs to work under forced labor conditions in factories across China.

The report listed Volkswagen among "companies directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uighur workers outside Xinjiang through potentially abusive labor transfer programs."

Volkswagen rejected the accusations about the Urumqi plant and its supply chains.

"There are and have been no indications of human rights violations at the Urumqi plant," Volkswagen said in an e-mailed statement, adding that there were "no further indications that the forced labour of Uighurs [was] part of the supply chain of the Volkswagen Group China or its units."

The carmaker also stressed it introduced a system for checking that human rights are respected by its direct suppliers.

Bütikofer is one of the signatories of an open letter sent on Friday by over 70 MEPs from different political groups, urging EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to demand the intervention of the United Nations to stop "serious and systematic human rights violations by the Chinese government against Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region." On Thursday, MEPs from the Renew Europe also asked Borrell to accelerate the adoption of a sanction system for human rights offenders.

Lawmakers have, however, repeatedly called on the Commission to intervene.

“The Parliament is very active but so far the Commission has not picked that up,” noted Bütikofer, adding that the Commission should not "hide behind the excuse" of not having an appropriate legal instrument to act upon.

"There is always an opportunity of naming and shaming. Infraction on basic human rights is so gross that we should not accept this business as usual approach,” he noted.

Jakob Hanke Vela contributed reporting. 



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