Questions for Thursday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing On “Atrocities in Xinjiang: Where Do We Go From Here?”

On Thursday, the subcommittees of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be holding a hearing to examine the People’s Republic of China’s atrocities in Xinjiang. Senators will hear testimony from leading human rights experts about the ongoing genocide occuring in the region. In March, the State Department issued its annual report on global human rights practices which detailed this abuse:

“In China, government authorities committed genocide against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and crimes against humanity including imprisonment, torture, enforced sterilization, and persecution against Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups.”

The State Department’s China Country Report provides chilling detail about the scope of these human rights abuses occurring in Xinjiang and throughout China, which include: 

“the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of China’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.”

Thursday’s hearing will feature leading human rights experts from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, Campaign for Uyghurs, and Human Rights Watch. For example, Ms. Rushan Abbas, Executive Director of Campaign for Uyghurs, will likely discuss how the Chinese regime imprisoned her sister in 2018 and sentenced her to 20 years, likely as retaliation for Ms. Abbas’s advocacy.

These witnesses and Members of the Committee will likely focus much of the discussion detailing the ongoing human rights abuses that are occuring. But as the conversation turns to the “Where Do We Go From Here?” topic, important questions must be asked about how and whether American companies’ and consumers’ are contributing to this genocide. As Ms. Abbas wrote in the Washington Post in January

“[w]hat is even more shocking than the Chinese government’s abject disregard for human rights and international law is that global companies are knowingly complicit in this genocide. The normalization of slavery in the modern world is happening, and we consumers are enabling it….

…Companies should be confronted with the question of how much my sister’s life is worth to them. How much are millions of Uighur lives worth? Consumers are increasingly aware of the situation facing the Uighurs and do not want to purchase products linked to slavery. Companies doing business in such an environment must realize that moral compromises on human rights abuses of this magnitude will have consequences.”

Ms. Abbas is right to raise these questions. In a recent coalition letter, Lincoln Network and representatives of 8 other organizations urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to investigate and hold a hearing to examine whether US tech firms were enabling the PRC’s digital authoritarianism and if their supply chains included forced-labor. Such a hearing would be a valuable follow up to Thursday’s discussion.

On Thursday, Senators should ask the human rights experts about these issues. The following are suggested questions for members of the Committee:

  1. What should US consumers know about the products that they are purchasing from companies that have supply chains in China?  To what extent are US consumers enabling forced-labor and the ongoing genocide? 
  1. What tools and information are available to help companies and consumers avoid enabling genocide and forced labor? What tools and services exist that give consumers the ability to assess the source of purchased goods and inform their consumptive decisions?
  1. Many companies point to their efforts to monitor their supply chains, including by conducting surveys or audits, which are aimed to reassure customers that they are not purchasing products that are created by slave labor. Are these audits legitimate?  Given the ongoing atrocities and threat of persecution against those who speak out, do these kinds of audits have any legitimacy? If we suspect deception, how can we evaluate the veracity of claims from complicit state actors?
  1. How does the People’s Republic of China use technology to exert digital authoritarianism over its subjects and persecuted minorities? How do US-based companies enable this kind of authoritarianism? To what extent do they enable repugnant labor practices and transgressions against human rights?
  1. What actions should the US government take to prevent the ongoing genocide and to prevent US-based companies and American consumers from enabling these human righs atrocities including forced labor? 

Lincoln Network will be watching the hearing and suggesting potential follow-up questions for the record.

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