Volkswagen investors demand independent audit of China car plant -Dlight News

Volkswagen investors demand independent audit of China car plant

Volkswagen investors demanded an independent audit of the German carmaker’s plant in China’s Xinjiang region, as officials faced human rights and climate protesters at a stormy annual meeting.

Security personnel escort activists holding signs demanding an end to alleged Uyghur forced labor. A protester threw a cake at Wolfgang Porsche, narrowly missing the patriarch of the two families that control VW.

Investors at the meeting raised concerns around VW’s plant in a region where China has been accused of human rights abuses, including alleged mass internment and forced labor in detention camps.

The future of the plant, which has been downsized in recent years, has become a sensitive issue for VW’s new chief executive Oliver Blume, who is also facing criticism for weak sales of the carmaker’s electric vehicles in China.

Decca Investments and Union Investments, two top-20 shareholders, called for an independent audit of the plant. Ingo Speich, head of corporate governance at Decca, said VW needed to prove it had nothing to hide, arguing that this would also help its share price.

“Unless complete proof is provided, there will be reputational and litigation risks,” he warned.

Haiuer Kurban, a Uyghur activist and German director of the World Uyghur Congress, called on VW not to take advantage of Beijing’s encroaching control over the minority people in Xinjiang.

There are more than 20 detention camps in the immediate vicinity of [VW’s Xinjiang] plant,” he claimed, adding that VW is the only car maker left in the region.

VW said it is committed to respecting human rights and good working conditions. The company operates the Xinjiang plant together with its Chinese joint-venture partner SAIC, and cannot make decisions affecting only the facility.

Ralf Brandstätter, VW’s board member responsible for China, said the company had “not seen any evidence of human rights violations at the plant”.

In February, Brandstatter visited the company’s Xinjiang plant for the first time, expressing “deep concern” over reports of human rights abuses. In an internal memo, it said the factory was of an “overall high standard”, describing a separate canteen for halal dishes and a “learning island” where workers could study the Uyghur language.

VW is also facing demands from investors to resolve a dispute surrounding its plant in Xinjiang as they press the company to increase sales in the country accused of abuses.

Jane Werning, head of ESG at Union Investments, said the asset manager had received no “satisfactory answers” to repeated questions about “potential human rights abuses”.

In the same speech, he expressed concern about VW’s performance in China and noted that Chinese brands like BYD would soon challenge the company not only in the Asian country, but also in Europe.

“For VW it is now a question of staying relevant in the world’s biggest car market – or being content to be an exclusive supplier,” he said.

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