German human rights due diligence firm Loening Human Rights & Responsible Business GmbH conducted an audit of Volkswagen’s site in Xinjiang. The area in China is associated with forced labor abuses of the Uyghur minority living there. As reported by Reuters, the audit found no traces of forced labor, but this doesn’t end concerns.
Findings of the audit
After being marked with a red flag in its social issue category in November 2022 due to allegations of the use of forced labor, Volkswagen investors demanded an independent audit of the Xinjiang site earlier this year.
Loening carried out the audit in collaboration with Chinese law firms and found no signs of forced labor. The audit involved conducting on-site interviews and examining the contracts and salary payments of the site’s 197 employees. Just under 25% of the employees are Uyghurs. Volkswagen stated that the audit adhered to the SA8000 standard, a management systems standard grounded in international human rights principles, evaluating eight areas, such as child labor, forced labor, and health and safety.
Challenges make findings unsatisfactory
However, the site did not officially get certified under SA8000, Volkswagen mentioned. Additionally, Loening, who conducted the audit, is not listed on the website of SAI (the organization that created the standard) as an authorized body to grant such certifications.
Furthermore, critics are not satisfied with the outcome of the audit.
“The situation in China and Xinjiang and the challenges in collecting data for audits are well known.” – Markus Loening, managing director of Loening
It is “widely known” how challenging it is to collect reliable data in China. One Volkswagen investor even called the assessment of labor standards in the region “impossible.” Two investors argued that regular audits would be needed, as reported by Reuters. Furthermore, there is a need for effective complaint mechanisms and transparency to answer the questions the audit brought up.
The easiest way to ensure Volkswagen’s automobiles are free from forced labor is to cut all ties with producers and companies in the Uyghur region. Join our call to action here!