Menendez, Rubio and Merkley ask Universal Electronics to provide details of agreement with Xinjiang government to transfer 400 workers to company’s Chinese factories
A bipartisan trio of senators is asking for answers from U.S..-based electronics firm Universal Electronics after a report by the Reuters news agency said the company could be implicated in forced-labor practices targeting Uyghur Muslim workers in China. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was joined by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in issuing a letter questioning the company’s possible involvement.
The group of senators is asking the Arizona-based company to provide details on an agreement Universal Electronics made with the Xinjiang government, an agreement the company has said is not related to any mistreatment of China’s Uyghur population. A 2020 BBC investigation found that over the past several years, the Chinese government has forced hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other minorities into manual labor in the Xinjiang region, allegations China has denied.
In June 2021, the U.S. State Department’s annual human trafficking report reinforced the BBC’s reporting, indicating that China’s forced-labor policy had resulted in the mass detention of more than a million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz and other Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. That report, the senators wrote, provides documentation of China’s “threats of physical violence, forcible drug intake, physical and sexual abuse, and torture to force detainees to work in adjacent or off-site factories or worksites. American companies must scrupulously avoid forced Uyghur labor in their Chinese operations, including by carefully vetting arrangements with third-party labor agents. [Reuters’ reporting indicates] Universal Electronics may be failing in this duty. We understand that the Uyghurs employed in your Qinzhou facility live in segregated dormitories, are continuously surveilled by police, and are made to participate in government ‘education activities.’… We believe these conditions bear obvious signs of forced labor.”
Universal Electronics told Reuters that it has employed at least 400 Uyghurs in a work-transfer agreement. The company denied that Uyghur workers are treated differently from any others but acknowledged that it does not know how workers are trained in Xinjiang. That revelation, the senators wrote, indicates that, “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.”
Universal Electronics Inc. is a NASDAQ-listed supplier of electronics equipment, at various points, selling components and software to Sony, Samsung, LG, Microsoft and others. Read the full text of the letter here.