World Uyghur Congress Urges Attention to Swiss Companies Operating in East Turkistan

World Uyghur Congress, 28 January 2019

Given the increasing role of foreign investment in the Uyghur region and concerns relating to complicity in widespread rights abuses, the World Uyghur Congress is urging a number of prominent Swiss firms to conduct thorough reviews of their activities in East Turkistan to ensure respect for international standards on business and human rights.

A number of notable Swiss firms conduct extensive operations in the Uyghur region or have partnered with Chinese companies. Some of these include:

  • Swiss-Re — Reinsurance company that formerly stated on its website that it “launched China’s first low temperature weather index insurance program for cotton” for Bingtuan (an economic and paramilitary organization with administrative authority over large areas in the region).
  • UBS Group — Bank which owns a minority stake in Hikvision, the surveillance equipment company deeply involved in the rollout of China’s surveillance system in the Uyghur region.
  • ABB — Technology company involved in infrastructure projects in East Turkistan including high speed rail lines and other heavy electrical projects.
  • Nestlé — Food and beverage company that buys tomato products from and has a strategic partnership with Cofco Tunhe, a state-owned company that produces tomatoes in East Turkistan

Although there is a uncertainty surrounding the precise relationship with Chinese companies complicit in the mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs, there are positive obligations for those companies working in the region to illustrate that they are not contributing to those abuses.

In addition, recent reports have indicated that Uyghurs detained in the camp system have been subjected to forced labour under harsh conditions without pay. Foreign firms with complex supply chains likewise have an obligation to ensure that their products are not sourced from areas where forced labour may be present.

Swiss authorities, who recently indicated concern for conditions on the ground in the Uyghur region, also have an obligation to ensure that domestic firms operating abroad are acting in conformity with the expectations upheld at home.

Beyond Switzerland, the WUC remains deeply concerned with foreign firms holding significant investments in those directly responsible for what many are now calling cultural genocide.

It is the duty of the international business community, in conformity with their own pledges respecting principles of business and human rights to first understand if their business activity contributes to human rights violations and if so, take immediate ameliorative steps.