As many environmentalists push for a quick transition to electric vehicles and clean energy, increasing ties have been found between the origin of the batteries needed to power the technology and forced labor in Chinese work camps.
One province in particular, Xinjiang, is facing mounting criticism as more details emerge surrounding working conditions for members of the Uyghur Muslim minority.
According to the New York Times, while China produces 75 percent of the world's lithium ion batteries, much of the raw material is mined elsewhere. In recent years, however, the Chinese government has set their sights on controlling all aspects of the supply chain.
In order to compete with other countries, China has ramped up production in the western province of Xinjiang, home to the nation's Uyghur Muslim minority.
As the Times reports, companies such as Xinjiang Nonferrous Metal Industry Group have partnered with the Chinese government to move hundreds of Uyghurs from the south to the industrialized north where they are put to work in mines, smelters, and factories producing lithium, nickel, manganese, beryllium, copper and gold.
While such companies deny that their workers are mistreated, reports show that Uyghurs are subject to what could easily be deemed to be forced labor.
Uyghurs who refuse to work in accordance with Chinese government policies are often sent to internment camps, and in May it was revealed that many of those camps have a "shoot-to-kill" policy for those who attempt to escape.
Thus, the official claim that "all employment is voluntary" is not supported.
In addition to forced labor, Uyghurs are also subjected to re-education, wherein government-appointed "teachers" attempt to create loyal subjects to the nation and communist regime.
On June 21, a new law will go into effect in the United States called the "Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act." As NPR reports, it gives the US authority to seize goods produced in Xinjiang unless companies can prove they did not engage in forced labor practices.
Environmental realist, author, and California gubernatorial candidate Michael Shellenberger is one of many calling on the Biden administration to go one step further and ban the importation of all goods from Xinjiang. He says the US should instead focus on manufacturing green technology at home.
As he points out, however, the decision would face pushback from both Democrats "who don't want to slow the deployment of solar panels and electric cars in the US," and "free market Republicans."
The world has shone a spotlight on the Chinese government's treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, but it remains to be seen whether the Communist Party and the companies to which it is so closely tied will change their practices.
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