By state political reporter Richard WillinghamPosted Yesterday at 12:26pm, updated Yesterday at 12:29pm

New trains for Melbourne’s railway network continue to be built with parts from a Chinese company accused of using forced labour from Uyghurs because changing suppliers would cost too much and cause delays, the Victorian government says.

A graphic illustration of a high-capacity train on tracks in daylight.

The high-capacity trains are being built by Evolution Rail, with parts made by KTK Group.(Supplied: Evolution Rail)

Key points:

  • KTK Group has assured the Victorian government it is not using forced labour
  • A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found KTK Group used Uyghurs in its factories
  • New South Wales and Queensland have also used KTK Group and Evolution Rail

The Andrews government has also received written assurances that the KTK Group in China is not using forced labour.

KTK Group provides parts to major manufacturers engaged by Victoria for its multi-billion-dollar train upgrade program.

Documents show that dozens of Uyghurs were employed through a government aid program. 

Last year the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), listed major train manufacturers among dozens of companies whose suppliers had links to forced labour of the targeted minority in Xinjiang province. 

An ASPI report from early 2020 estimated more than 80,000 Uyghurs had been moved out of Xinjiang province to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019.

KTK Group provides parts to the Evolution Rail group which is making the High-Capacity Metro Trains (HCMTs) as well as other manufacturers engaged by Victoria including Alstom and Bombardier. 

“The Department of Transport (DoT) has contacted major rolling stock suppliers in relation to this claim,” a Department of Transport brief note says.

“Alstom, Bombardier and Evolution Rail have provided formal responses indicating that they are not aware of any use of forced labour within their supply chain. 

“There is potential for DoT to direct manufacturers to seek alternative suppliers for KTK Group manufactured components, however this is likely to create delays and costs which would be passed on to the State.”

The briefing note is contained in Freedom of Information documents which were obtained by the Victorian Opposition and The Age separately and have been seen by the ABC. 

New South Wales and Queensland also use the companies. 

Daniel Andrews train announcement
Daniel Andrews announced the deal for the manufacture of the trains in 2016.(ABC News: Kyle Harley)

The Andrews government has not inspected the factories but has received written assurances from the three companies that use KTK does not use forced labour.

“The response states that the KTK Group denies the allegation of forced labour and has confirmed with CRRC that its labour employment complies with national labour laws, and that it does not employ any forced Uyghur workers,” a Department of Transport document says.

“Evolution Rail confirmed that it is updating its policies to ensure it complies with the requirements of relevant legislation such as the Modern Slavery Act 2018, including the requirement of Evolution Rail to provide mandatory statutory reporting on its supply chain from June 2021.”Xinjiang families torn apartChina’s mass internment of its ethnic Uyghur population appears to be the largest imprisonment of people on the basis of religion since the Holocaust.Read more

Shadow Infrastructure Minister David Davis said the documents showed “there is every reason to suspect the many purchases have input components that don’t bear scrutiny”.

“It is clear that [Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta] Allan and Labor and the transport offices have chosen to rely on bland assurances from the train firms themselves,” Mr Davis told ABC Radio Melbourne.

A state government spokeswoman said complying with modern slavery laws was “a non-negotiable” and all contractors should adhere to the rules. 

“The Victorian Government has taken extensive steps to investigate these allegations since they were raised last year, including repeatedly seeking assurances from suppliers that forced labour is not used in the production of Melbourne’s HCMTs,” she said.Posted Yesterday, updated Yesterday

Victoria continued to use Uighur labour firm to avoid delays on $2.4b rail project