Many of those suppliers run through China, which has become increasingly vital to the global auto industry and the United States, the destination for about a quarter of the auto parts that China exports annually. Xinjiang is home to a variety of industries, but its ample coal reserves and lax environmental regulations have made it a prominent location for energy-intensive materials processing, like smelting metal, the report says.
Chinese supply chains are complicated and opaque, which can make it difficult to trace certain individual products from Xinjiang to the United States. Over the past three years, Xinjiang and other parts of China have been intermittently locked down to keep the coronavirus at bay. Even before the pandemic, the Chinese government tightly controlled access to Xinjiang, especially for human rights groups and media outlets.
Determining the extent of coercion that any individual Uyghur worker may face in Xinjiang’s mines or factories is also difficult given the region’s restrictions. But the overarching environment of repression in Xinjiang has prompted the U.S. government to presume that any products that have touched the region in their production are made with forced labor unless companies can prove otherwise.
Workers in the region “don’t have a chance to say no,” said Yalkun Uluyol, a Xinjiang native and one of the report’s authors. Goods coming from Xinjiang “are a product of the exploitation of the land, of the resources and of the people,” he said.
The report’s researchers identified numerous documents — including Chinese-language corporate filings, government announcements and ocean import records — indicating that international brands, at the very least, have multiple potential exposures to programs in Xinjiang that the U.S. government now defines as forced labor.
Dr. Murphy said her team had identified nearly 100 Chinese companies mining, processing or manufacturing materials for the automotive industry operating in the Uyghur region, at least 38 of which had publicized their engagement in repressive state-sponsored labor programs through their social media accounts, corporate reports or other channels.
International automakers contacted by The Times did not contradict the report but said they were committed to policing their supply chains against human rights abuses and forced labor.