VW rejects forced labor at China plant in stormy shareholder meeting with flying cakes – Autoblog -Dlight News

VW rejects forced labor at China plant in stormy shareholder meeting with flying cakes - Autoblog

Wolfgang Porsche, chairman of Porsche SE, with the remains of a cake thrown by workers at Volkswagen’s annual shareholder meeting. (Getty Images) BERLIN – Volkswagen defended its record in China and its decision to jointly own plants in the Xinjiang region after workers and investors protested against the carmaker at a volatile annual general shareholder meeting on Wednesday. About 10 activists, including a half-naked woman with ‘dirty money’ painted on her back, interrupted the officials’ speeches, shouting that the carmaker’s vehicles had been forcibly built and waving banners that read: ‘End Uyghur Forced Labour’. The United Nations said last year that China’s “arbitrary and discriminatory detention” of Uighurs and other Muslims in its Xinjiang region could constitute crimes against humanity. Rights groups have documented abuses, including mass forced labor, in detention camps that China denies. Investors called on Volkswagen to request its joint venture partner SAIC to conduct an independent external audit of the Xinjiang plant. “Volkswagen must be certain that its supply chain is clean,” said Ingo Speich, head of sustainability and corporate governance at Decca, Volkswagen’s top-20 shareholder. China head Ralf Brandstetter said: “We see no evidence of human rights violations at the plant,” adding that the carmaker was not able to implement the audit without SAIC’s agreement. Brandstetter visited the plant earlier this year and said Wednesday: “There is no reason to doubt my impressions or the information available to me.” However, activists including Haiyuer Querban of the World Uyhur Congress highlighted the difficulty for locals to speak out given reports of mass internment camps and connections between Volkswagen suppliers and companies with a presence there, as well as state restrictions on freedom of speech. Investors also expressed concern that Volkswagen was falling behind in China’s increasingly competitive electric vehicle market, with BYD outselling Volkswagen as the top passenger car brand earlier this year. Chief executive Oliver Blume acknowledged the rapid pace of China’s electrification, and outlined Volkswagen’s strategy to maintain its position as a market leader – tailoring products to Chinese tastes and building local partnerships.
The CEO defends a dual role
Some investors reiterated their long-standing criticism of Oliver Blume’s dual role as head of both Volkswagen and Porsche and the low valuation of Volkswagen’s stock, which has been in freefall for the past two years without relief since Porsche’s listing last September. Blum said he saw “high added value” in running both companies. The chief executive also said that the carmaker has a clear plan to raise its capital market valuation which will be presented at the capital market day in June. Meanwhile, activists from the ‘Last Generation’ climate group lined the roads leading to the location of the shareholder meeting in Berlin on Wednesday and protested outside the entrance. One activist, whose involvement was unclear, threw a cake at Porsche SE Chairman Wolfgang Porsche, sending bits flying in the direction of Volkswagen Supervisory Board Chairman Hans Dieter Poesch as he spoke at the podium. All the activists were quickly escorted out of the meeting by security personnel. “Constructive dialogue is important. And the general meeting provides a good opportunity for this. With the exception of a few people, everyone follows the prescribed guidelines,” said a Volkswagen spokesperson.

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