US company supplied DNA collection equipments used in TAR by China

In December 2022, four members of the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) wrote a letter expressing concern to Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., a U.S. based company and supplier of scientific instrumentation, that the company’s products may have contributed to Chinese Communist Party’s abuse of Tibetan People.
Thermo Fisher is reported to have sold DNA Kits and replacement parts for Sequencers directly to Police Force in Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) to enable mass surveillance and human rights abuses. Sales of replacement parts imply that security authorities in the TAR already possess company’s DNA sequencers as well.
Two recent studies have documented evidence of mass collection of DNA samples from residents in the TAR. First, a September 2022 report by Toronto-based Citizen Lab found that between June 2016 and August 2022 police in the TAR collected between roughly 900,000 and 1.2 million DNA samples. The Citizen Lab report found that police collected DNA samples from roughly a quarter to a third of the population of the TAR. Citizen Lab’s analysis determined that the activity was not apparently related to any criminal activity and that police targeted men, women, and children for DNA collection. Second, a report by Human Rights Watch in the same month identified DNA collection drives in 14 distinct localities across the seven prefecture-level areas of the TAR. Blood samples were systematically collected from children at kindergartens and from other local residents, and available information suggested that the collection was involuntary and evidence of criminal conduct was not required for collection.
A 2017 Human Rights Watch report found that Thermo Fisher Scientific had supplied police in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) with some of the DNA sequencers used in a mass DNA collection campaign in the region. In subsequent months, reports emerged that the Chinese Communist Party established a system of mass surveillance and mass detention of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim Turkic peoples.
Though, in February 2019, the company announced that it would stop selling or servicing genetic sequencers in the XUAR as ‘consistent with Thermo Fisher’s values,
ethics code and policies’, a June 2021 New York Times investigation found that the police in the XUAR were still purchasing equipment made by Thermo Fisher.
Though the exact intention of Chinese authorities behind collection of DNA samples in TAR is not known, going by the policies and methods that PRC security forces have employed to exert intrusive social controls over minority populations like Uyghurs and Tibetans, it is feared that DNA collection could enable further gross violations of their human rights.
Given that there are so few safeguards for how DNA is gathered and used in the PRC, it is alarming that the U.S. companies, including Thermo Fisher Scientific, may be wittingly or unwittingly aiding or abetting human rights abuses. The company must conduct an investigation into how its products reportedly came to be used in the XUAR even after its statement that it would no longer sell there. The company should consider implementing a blanket prohibition on all sales of its products to state and non-state entities in the PRC in order to assure its shareholders and the American public that its products cannot be used in the commitment of human rights abuses in that country.

News Desk

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