VW plant Xinjiang China VW web

BERLIN – Volkswagen has been heavily criticized by activists after the head of its Chinese business said he saw no signs of forced labor during a visit to the automaker's Xinjiang plant.

Activists and an international group of lawmakers said was impossible to review labor standards in the region.

Human rights groups have documented human rights abuses in Xinjiang since the 2000s, including mass forced labor in detention camps, which the UN says could constitute crimes against humanity.

China has denied any abuses in Xinjiang.

VW China boss Ralf Brandstätter spent 1 1/2 days between February 16 and 17 to tour the German group's plant in the region, which is part of a joint with China's SAIC, along with the VW chiefs for compliance and external relations in China.

Brandstätter said he saw no signs of forced labor and the workers' comments match reports SAIC has given VW about the plant.

“I can talk to people and draw my conclusions. I can try to fact check and I have done so. I didn't find any contradictions,” he said, adding it was his first visit but not his last.

But Luke de Pulford of the Interparliamentary Alliance for China, a group of lawmakers from thirty democratic countries including the UK, Germany and the US, said human rights organizations believe labor standards in the region cannot be scrutinized because members of the Uyghur minority they could not speak freely without fearing for their safety.

Activists from the World Uyghur Congress in Germany and researchers from Sheffield Hallam University, who wrote a report on the auto industry's supply chain to Xinjiang, said the visit to the region and talks with workers were likely planned and coordinated with authorities .

See also  McLaren cuts a lot of work in the supercar and F1 divisions

Brandstätter said he spoke extensively one-on-one with seven workers — including Han Chinese, Uyghurs and Kazakhs — some through a translator of VW's and some in English, and had briefer conversations with other workers on his tour who he says did not government supervision took place.

The plant that previously assembled the Santana has seen a 65 percent downsizing since the pandemic and only performs quality checks and the fitting of certain features before the vehicles are handed over to dealers for sale in the region.

Planned production for this year is 10,000, a fraction of the 50,000 targeted at opening.

By Rebecca French

Rebecca French writes books about Technology and smartwatches. Her books have received starred reviews in Technology Shout, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist. She is a New York Times and a USA Today Bestseller...