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German carmakers challenged over Xinjiang due diligence in rights group complaint


By Victoria Waldersee and Jan Schwartz

BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany’s top carmakers have been accused by a Berlin-based human rights group of not showing they have carried out due diligence to prevent the risk of forced labour being used by their suppliers in Xinjiang, China, a potential violation of Germany’s new supply chain law.

The group, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), has filed a complaint against Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz with Germany’s export control office, it said on Wednesday.

Volkswagen said it was surprised by the allegations and was examining the complaint.

Mercedes-Benz said it has not yet received the complaint and has no direct operations in the region. “We are in contact with our suppliers and whenever concerns are raised, we push suppliers for clarification,” it added.

BMW said it had not received the complaint, but that it holds its suppliers to social and environmental standards, including requiring they take preventative measures as required by law.

Since January 1, 2023, companies in Germany above a certain size must establish due diligence procedures, including an annual risk analysis, that prevent human rights and environmental abuses within their global supply chains.

UN experts and rights groups estimate over a million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in China’s western Xinjiang region. Researchers and rights groups say the camps have been used as a source for low paid and coercive labour.

China denies all accusations of abuse.

While BMW and Mercedes-Benz do not have their own plants in Xinjiang, researchers at Sheffield Hallam University and others have documented links between the carmakers’ suppliers and companies with operations in or near the region.

Volkswagen has a plant in Xinjiang’s capital which does not produce vehicles but runs quality checks on cars for sale in the region.

After pressure from investors, the carmaker is in talks with its joint venture partner SAIC about running an independent audit of the plant, though ECCHR said audits alone were not enough to ensure human rights abuses were not being committed.

(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee, Jan Schwartz; editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Jason Neely)

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