This U.S. Senator Hasn’t Forgotten About the Automotive Supply Chains Stretching to Xinjiang

By Matthew McMullan
Feb 17 2023 |
Here come the questionable goods. | Getty Images

Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is angry that auto inputs are still rife with credible forced labor accusations.

Yesterday we watched a Kentucky Steelworker explain to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee why tighter and more responsive trade rules would greatly benefit the domestic aluminum industry that he works in. The Steelworker also pointed out that, despite a ban on such items entering the American market, plenty of products with supply chains rooted in the Chinese region of Xinjiang – where the state is credibly accused of using forced labor to subdue the Uyghur ethnic group – still make it into the United States. His testimony cited a report from a British university showing the auto industry is rife with these problematic supply chains.

And reader, lemme tell you: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is not happy about this. Politico ran him down in the hallway and asked him about it:

“Clearly we need more” enforcement, he said outside the hearing, reiterating his concern that Chinese firms using forced labor would undercut American workers. “We’re talking about thousands and thousands of jobs being undercut and those workers deserve to know that their government isn’t letting forced labor undercut their good paying jobs.”  

This, of course, didn’t just sneak up on Wyden. After the report came out in December – and, if you’re up for it, you can hear an interview with its lead author right here on AAM’s podcast – the senator sent a letter to eight automakers, asking them to explain themselves and what appears to be their continued reliance on these kinds of inputs.

“I recognize automobiles contain numerous parts sourced across the world and are subject to complex supply chains,” he wrote then. “However, this recognition cannot cause the United States to compromise its fundamental commitment to upholding human rights and U.S. law.”

Many of those automakers have responded to him, offering details on what they’re doing to bring themselves into compliance with the ban on Xinjiang-made goods. But while he and his staff are still reviewing those responses, it sounds like Wyden is already fed up and will start using his capacity in the Senate for oversight – and to get customs officials at the border to stop admitting these items into the country.

Listen to an interview with the lead author of the damning automotive supply chain report here. And read the letter it prompted from Sen. Wyden here.