Volkswagen Group’s annual shareholder meeting on May 10 in Berlin was disrupted by climate change and human rights activists over the automaker’s alleged use of forced labor in China and its slow electrification pace, as well as investors over losing market share in China.
Some of the activists entered the venue and interrupted VW Group Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch’s speech, waving banners that read: “End Uyghur Forced Labor.” Among the activists there was a topless woman with “Dirty Money” painted on her back.
One of the activists threw a cake at Wolfgang Porsche, the chairman of Porsche SE – VW Group’s majority shareholder – but missed, with crumbs flying in the direction of Poetsch, who successfully dodged them. You can watch the moment in Reuters‘ video below but not in VW Group’ video above as it was edited out from the official footage.
The protestors were removed from the hall by security staff, but another group of green activists were outside the building protesting VW Group’s “climate-damaging decisions.” Police prevented them from glueing themselves to the square outside as part of their demand for Volkswagen to accelerate its EV adoption in order to reduce its carbon footprint.
“The science is clear: the emissions from Volkswagen’s planned car sales are beyond planetary limits,” was the message held up by activists from Scientist Rebellion.
Volkswagen denied claims of using forced labor at the plant it operates with SAIC Motor in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. “We do not see any evidence of human rights abuses at the plant,” said VW Group China chief Ralf Brandstaetter, who visited the plant earlier this year. “I have no reason to doubt my impressions or the information available to me,” he added.
However, activists and some VW Group shareholders urged the automaker to require of joint venture partner SAIC that it conducts an external independent audit of the plant to make sure that its supply chains are clean.
Investors also voiced their concerns about Volkswagen Group losing market share in China to EV makers like BYD and Tesla – last month BYD overtook VW as the No. 1 automobile brand in the world’s largest car market. They also said Chinese automakers, as well as Tesla, pose a major threat to VW Group also in Europe.
While VW Group CEO Oliver Blume acknowledged the fast pace of China’s electrification, he outlined the automaker’s strategy to hold on to its position as market leader by developing products tailored to Chinese tastes and building local partnerships.
Some shareholders also criticized Blume for his dual role as head of both VW Group and Porsche, and the low valuation of Volkswagen stock, which has been in freefall for the past two years. Porsche’s separate listing last September did nothing to change that.
Finally, the Cariad software unit, which has delayed the launches of several important VW Group EVs so far, was another major point of criticism.