Red Flags for Forced Labor Found in China’s Car Battery Supply Chain – The New York Times
The photograph on the mining conglomerate’s social media account showed 70 ethnic Uyghur workers standing at attention under the flag of the People’s Republic of China. It was March 2020 and the recruits would soon undergo training in management, etiquette and “loving the party and the country,” their new employer, the Xinjiang Nonferrous Metal Industry Group, announced.
But this was no ordinary worker orientation. It was the kind of program that human rights groups and U.S. officials consider a red flag for forced labor in China’s western Xinjiang region, where the Communist authorities have detained or imprisoned more than 1 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other largely Muslim minorities.
The scene also represents a potential problem for the global effort to fight climate change.
China produces three-quarters of the world’s lithium ion batteries, and almost all the metals needed to make them are processed there. Much of the material, though, is actually mined elsewhere, in places like Argentina, Australia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uncomfortable with relying on other countries, the Chinese government has increasingly turned to western China’s mineral wealth as a way to shore up scarce supplies.
That means companies like the Xinjiang Nonferrous Metal Industry Group are assuming a larger role in the supply chain behind the batteries that power electric vehicles and store renewable energy — even as China’s draconian crackdown on minorities in Xinjiang fuels outrage around the world.
The Chinese government denies the presence of forced labor in Xinjiang, calling it “the lie of the century.” But it acknowledges running what it describes as a work transfer program that sends Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities from the region’s more rural south to jobs in its more industrialized north.
Xinjiang Nonferrous and its subsidiaries have partnered with the Chinese authorities to take in hundreds of such workers in recent years, according to articles displayed proudly in Chinese on the company’s social media account. These workers were eventually sent to work in the conglomerate’s mines, a smelter and factories that produce some of the most highly sought minerals on earth, including lithium, nickel, manganese, beryllium, copper and gold.
It is difficult to trace precisely where the metals produced by Xinjiang Nonferrous go. But some have been exported to the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and India, according to company statements and customs records. And some have gone to large Chinese battery makers, who in turn, directly or indirectly, supply major American entities, including automakers, energy companies and the U.S. military, according to Chinese news reports.
It is unclear whether these relationships are ongoing, and Xinjiang Nonferrous did not respond to requests for comment.
But this previously unreported connection between critical minerals and the kind of work transfer programs in Xinjiang that the U.S. government and others have called a form of forced labor could portend trouble for industries that depend on these materials, including the global auto sector.
A new law, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, goes into effect in the United States on Tuesday and will bar products that were made in Xinjiang …….