Shrewd Automakers, Forced Labor, And Data Privacy

Mike Leslie
May 23, 2024

Multiple major automakers relied on forced labor in China for some purchased parts, a Senate Finance Committee investigation found Monday.

Inputs that matter: BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volkswagen purchased parts that the U.S. government flagged for links to forced labor camps in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang, home to the Uighur minority group of Muslims.

  • The two-year investigation also found that BMW and Jaguar Land Rover continued importing the flagged parts as recently as last month, even after they were informed of the forced labor, the report states.

The opportunity: The report claims that BMW imported about 8,000 Mini cars to the U.S. that contained a flagged part after a Chinese manufacturer was added to a forced labor list in December.

  • "The BMW Group has strict standards and policies regarding employment practices, human rights, and working conditions, which all our direct suppliers must follow," the company said in a statement to The Hill.

Zoom in: "Automakers are sticking their heads in the sand and then swearing they can't find any forced labor in their supply chains," Finance Chair Sen. Ron Wyden said in a statement.

  • "Somehow, the Finance Committee's oversight staff uncovered what multi-billion-dollar companies apparently could not: that BMW imported cars, Jaguar Land Rover imported parts, and VW AG manufactured cars that all included components made by a supplier banned for using Uyghur forced labor."
  • "I'm calling on Customs and Border Protection to take several specific steps to supercharge enforcement and crack down on companies that fuel the shameful use of forced labor in China."

Between the lines: Meanwhile, Automotive News reports that Toyota, Subaru, Mazda, Nissan, Kia, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen have told Congress they would hand over drivers' data if faced with a subpoena.

  • A subpoena is a lawyer's assertion that they are entitled to the requested information, while a court order determines that the lawyer is entitled to it.
  • This means connected car ownership can make someone far more accessible to track than via their phone, whose location data generally still requires a warrant to obtain.
  • Consumers have other reasons to worry, too: Insurers are pressing harder for vehicle data, and privacy is only becoming more valuable in an increasingly authoritarian surveillance state.
  • The federal government has also expressed concern, with the Biden administration asserting that allowing Chinese EVs to be sold in the U.S. possess national security risks.

Follow the money: The average age of vehicles rises to 12.6 years, and the total number of cars in use increases to 286 million.

  • Out of all vehicles, just 88 million were 1 to 5 years old in January.
  • There were 110 million vehicles in the prime range for aftermarket service, ages 6 to 14 years.

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