In the fall and winter of 2021, Tesla and Elon Musk were vilified over Elon’s wealth. This year, after Elon has paid his taxes, the new topic is Tesla’s newly opened showroom in Xinjiang. Sadly, Xinjiang is well known for its treatment of over one million Uyghur Muslims who have been put into what China has called re-education camps. I am not disputing the fact that this is wrong. It is. It’s a human rights crisis and China needs to stop treating people like this.
However, the outrage over Tesla’s newly opened showroom, in my opinion, is fake. The folks upset over it didn’t seem to care about the human rights crisis before Tesla opened up the showroom there. Now, I’m sure there are some who do care and who are upset over Tesla’s move there. That’s fine — and honestly, I think Tesla would do well to proceed with extreme caution in Xinjiang. As in, don’t follow Apple’s and others’ leads when it comes to using slave labor.
Earlier this year, The Verge and a few others reported that Apple was linked to forced labor in Xinjiang. Apple along with six other companies supported forced labor programs that targeted China’s Uyghurs Muslims living in Xinjiang. As someone who supports Tesla, I don’t want to see Tesla fall into that role.
The Fake Outrage
To be brutally honest, no one really seemed to care about Apple’s link to the forced labor in China as they waited in lines for their latest iPhones last year. Apple isn’t the only company. Other companies, including automakers that President Biden claimed are leading the EV markets in the US, already have fully operating showrooms in Xinjiang. No one is upset about this. Only Tesla. General Motors, the so-called EV leader, and Ford have several dealerships in the Xinjiang region. You can see them on this Google Maps photo here.
They are not alone. The Guardian reported in 2013 that Volkswagen operates a small car plant in Xinjiang. BMW and Mercedes-Benz also have a presence there and have been accused of benefitting from forced labor.
Yet only Tesla seemed to be the main focus of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as its National Communications Director, Ibrahim Hooper had some words to say.
“No American corporation should be doing business in a region that is the focal point of a campaign of genocide targeting a religious and ethnic minority. Elon Musk and Tesla must close this new showroom and cease what amounts to economic support for genocide.”
I agree with Hooper, actually. We shouldn’t be doing business in a region that is openly committing genocide. However, we already are and to blame Tesla while pretending it’s the only American company in that region is hypocritical and fake.
Tesla Isn’t The Only American Company With A Presence In Xinjiang
In 2018, ChinaFile published a long list of American companies, primarily Fortune 500 companies, that are doing business in Xinjiang. ExxonMobil, Amazon, GM, Ford, GE, Dell, Pepsi, General Mills, Hilton, Avon, and Campbell Soup are all on the list. Unless you are willing to stop drinking Pepsi, throw out your chicken soup cans and your Lucky Charms, and stop buying Xerox paper, you shouldn’t let the mainstream media manipulate you into being outraged just over Tesla’s newly opened showroom in Xinjiang.
Instead of focusing your outrage on Tesla alone, perhaps you should be more outraged that the mainstream media is using the plight of the Uyghur Muslims for clicks and ratings. Instead of being outraged, you could choose to take action instead. If you boycott one company on that list, you need to boycott them all. However, that may not be possible. Even I didn’t know the maker of my favorite cereal is on a list of companies doing business in Xinjiang.
In April 2021, Save Uighur called out brands that were linked to the forced labor of Uyghur Muslims. The organization noted that a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute revealed a vast network of companies that were complicit in the use of Uyghur forced labor throughout China. You might recognize some of these brands:
- Kate Spade.
- Victoria’s Secret.
- Louis Vuitton.
Those are just some of the global companies listed. In 2017, Zara made the news when customers found messages sewn into their clothes. Laborers working for Zara have been leaving notes claiming that they’re working without pay in Turkey. Although Turkey and China are two different countries, it’s not surprising that Zara would be linked to forced labor in Xinjiang.
A Thought For Tesla and Elon Musk
As someone who cares about Tesla’s mission, I think it’s important for Tesla to have its showrooms in China. China is the largest EV market, after all, and for Tesla to continue to succeed in accelerating the world’s transition to sustainability, Tesla needs to do well in China.
However, just a piece of advice from a Louisiana writer: tighten up your already strict human rights policy. Make it known that Tesla will refuse to use forced labor. And follow that up with: Tesla won’t tolerate the use of slave or child labor in the manufacturing of its products or use products and services provided by suppliers that engage in such atrocious activities.
I think Tesla should create a policy for forced labor tailored to China and Xinjiang as well. Critics won’t be appeased, but those truly invested in the company, whether they are customers or shareholders or both, will. And so will people who care about our human cousins in Xinjiang.
I also think Tesla could create a process of due diligence to ensure that its employees in China don’t get involved with forced labor. Elon Musk can’t be personally responsible for every single employee or the moves each employee makes, so it would make sense for Tesla to protect itself, employees, customers, shareholders, and victims of forced labor in this manner.
One last thought is that, also, the residents of Xinjiang shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of their government. You don’t hold me responsible for everything that Trump did — especially when I didn’t vote for him, right? If you do, well that’s another topic for another day. The point is that customers in Xinjiang deserve to have access to a local Tesla showroom. If Ford can have one, why not Tesla?
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