Human Rights

Senators call for answers from US firm over reported use of forced Uyghur labor in China

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Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) are demanding a bipartisan investigation into reports of a U.S. firm’s use of Uyghur forced labor. 

The senators on Wednesday wrote a letter calling for an investigation following a Reuters report earlier this month that Universal Electronics employed hundreds of ethnic Uyghur laborers through a deal with the Xinjiang authorities that “bears clear signs of forced labor.”

The letter listed several questions about the use of Uyghur laborers and called upon Universal Electronics’s CEO Paul Arling to explain the company’s reported labor practices to Congress.

“American companies must scrupulously avoid forced Uyghur labor in their Chinese operations, including by carefully vetting arrangements with third-party labor agents,” the senators wrote in their letter. “Last week’s reports indicate Universal Electronics may be failing in this duty.”

According to Reuters, a Universal Electronics spokesperson confirmed that the company “does not conduct independent due diligence on where and how its workers are trained in Xinjiang.”

“In other words, Universal Electronics is choosing to turn a blind eye. If true, this is a serious failure in your firm’s ethical and fiduciary responsibilities – and, potentially, your duties under U.S. law,” the senators’ letter added in response to the statement.

“We look forward to working with Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Rubio, and Senator Merkley on the questions they raised in the letter,” a spokesperson from Universal Electronics said in an email to The Hill. “UEI made the decision last week to end its relationship with the staffing agency that hired these workers based on feedback on how to best secure its supply chain and in light of ongoing regulatory and legislative changes globally.”

The Reuters report said that the deal was to transport laborers to the company’s plant in Qinzhou, China. Authorities funded at least one charter flight that took the workers to the factory with a police escort.

The U.S.-based company Universal Electronic, which has sold its equipment to Sony, Samsung, LG and Microsoft, is the first confirmed American company that has a transfer program that some have deemed forced labor, according to Reuters. 

Menendez, who serves as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, also led an effort to classify the human rights abuses of the Uyghur people and other ethnic minorities in China as genocide.

–Updated 1:15 p.m.

Tags Bob Menendez forced labor Jeff Merkley Marco Rubio Uyghur genocide Uyghurs Xinjiang
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