American companies, including Amazon.com, Apple and Nike, came under fire by a U.S. Senator on Thursday for disregarding forced labour allegations in China and making American consumers complicit in Beijing’s alleged repressive policies.
Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on China’s crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in its western Xinjiang region, Republican Senator Marco Rubio accused many U.S. companies of “profiting” from the Chinese government’s abuses.
“For far too long, companies like Nike and Apple and Amazon and Coca-Cola were using forced labor. They were benefiting from forced labor or sourcing from suppliers that were suspected of using forced labor,” Rubio said. “These companies, sadly, were making all of us complicit in these crimes.”
Senator Ed Markey, who led the hearing with fellow Democrat Tim Kaine, said a number of U.S. technology companies had profited from the Chinese government’s “authoritarian surveillance industry,” and that many of their products “are being used in Xinjiang right now.”
In 2019, Thermo Fisher Scientific said it would stop selling genetic sequencing equipment to Xinjiang after it was documented that authorities there were building a DNA database for Uyghurs, but this did not have much impact.
“All evidence is that they continue to provide these products which enabled these human rights abuses,” Rubio said of Thermo Fisher, noting that he had repeatedly written to the Massachusetts-based company about the matter.
“Whenever we receive proof of forced labor, we take action and suspend privileges to sell,” an Amazon spokesperson said.
Coca-Cola declined to comment.
U.S. lawmakers are now seeking to pass legislation banning imports of goods made in Xinjiang over forced labor concerns.
Rights groups, researchers, former residents, and some western lawmakers say Xinjiang authorities are facilitating forced labor by arbitrarily detaining some one million Uyghurs and other primarily Muslim minorities in a network of camps.
The United States government and parliaments in countries, including Britain and Canada, have described China’s policies toward Uyghurs as genocide. China has denied the charges, saying the camps are for vocational training and to counter religious extremism.
Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, told the Senate panel that Beijing’s “extreme repression and surveillance” made human rights due diligence for companies impossible.