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Lawmakers Raise Concerns About Ford and Chinese Battery Partner’s Use of Forced Labor

Republican lawmakers are expressing concerns about the partnership between Ford Motor and a major Chinese battery maker, citing potential reliance on a company with links to forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region. The chairs of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party and the House Ways and Means Committee have sent a letter to Ford, demanding more information about the partnership, including Ford’s plan to employ several hundred workers from China at a new battery factory in Michigan.

In February, Ford announced its plan to set up a $3.5 billion factory using technology from Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. (CATL), the world’s largest maker of batteries for electric vehicles. CATL supplies major automakers like General Motors, Volkswagen, BMW, and Tesla.

While Ford defends the partnership, lawmakers have raised concerns about CATL’s ties to forced labor. Although CATL divested its share of a company in Xinjiang after announcing the deal with Ford, the shares were bought by an investment partnership in which CATL owned a partial stake and a former CATL manager held leadership roles in other companies owned by the battery maker.

The lawmakers also criticized Ford’s commitment to employing Chinese workers at the Michigan factory. Ford has argued that the partnership will create American jobs, promote sustainability and human rights, and advance American battery technology. However, lawmakers believe that newly discovered information raises questions about these claims.

Ford is reviewing the letter and will respond accordingly. The company emphasizes that human rights are fundamental to its business and that it thoroughly assesses such issues. Critics have labeled Ford’s collaboration with CATL as a “Trojan horse” for Chinese interests and have called for the partnership to be terminated. If successful, this partnership could set a precedent for the US electric vehicle industry’s reliance on Chinese technology.

However, CATL offers battery technology that is not readily available from US or European suppliers. The Michigan plant would produce lithium, iron, and phosphate (LFP) batteries, which are heavier but less expensive and more durable than current alternatives. These batteries also do not use environmentally damaging materials like nickel or cobalt.

By not partnering with a major battery maker like CATL, US carmakers may fall behind their Chinese rivals and hinder the adoption of electric vehicles, which would slow down efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Biden administration faces a dilemma concerning China’s dominance in key technologies like batteries. While the administration wants to reduce reliance on China, it also aims to transition quickly to cleaner energy sources to combat climate change. The solar and electric vehicle battery industry’s exposure to forced labor in Xinjiang further complicates the situation.

CATL did not respond to a request for comment but previously stated that it strictly prohibits forced labor in its supply chain. The Republican lawmakers also raised concerns about whether batteries made at Ford’s Michigan plant would qualify for government tax credits, as the law restricts foreign entities’ access to these credits. Ford officials believe that the partnership will qualify for all the benefits under the law and are in conversation with the Biden administration regarding the matter.

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