October 20, 2021

Menendez, Rubio, Merkley Lead Bipartisan Probe into U.S. Firm’s Reported Use of Uyghur Forced Labor in China

WASHINGTONSenate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), today was joined by Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in demanding answers from United States electronics firm Universal Electronic Inc. following an explosive report by Reuters which uncovered the company’s probable implication in the Chinese government’s genocide of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The bipartisan letter lists a series of questions for Chief Executive Officer Paul Arling to explain to Congress the reported forced labor practices in Universal Electronics’ facilities in Qinzhou, China, where hundreds of ethnic Uyghur laborers work pursuant to an agreement between the company and the Xinjiang government.

Citing the State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report documentation of the CCP’s use of “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,” the senators wrote: “American companies must scrupulously avoid forced Uyghur labor in their Chinese operations, including by carefully vetting arrangements with third-party labor agents. Last week’s reports indicate 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.”

The senators also responded to the company’s admission that it does not conduct independent due diligence on where and how its Xinjiang workers are trained or who pays for their transport, writing: “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.”

Chairman Menendez led a 2020 Senate Resolution to designate human rights abuses perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China against the Uyghur people and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) as genocide. The resolution would hold China accountable under the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and begin the process to coordinate an international response to bring these abuses to a halt.

Find a copy of the letter HERE and below.

Dear Mr. Arling:

We write regarding disturbing reports of forced labor in Universal Electronics facilities. Earlier this month, Reuters reported that the Universal Electronics factory in Qinzhou, China employs hundreds of ethnic Uyghur laborers pursuant to an agreement with the Xinjiang government. This arrangement bears clear signs of forced labor, raising concerns that your firm may be directly implicated in the Chinese government’s genocide in Xinjiang.

As you are aware, Chinese government authorities have long used forced labor to subjugate the Uyghur population. The State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report stated, “in Xinjiang, the government is the trafficker. Authorities use 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,” including consumer electronics factories. The State Department further stated that in recent years, “the government also began transferring many thousands of [internment] camp detainees elsewhere in Xinjiang and to other provinces throughout the country under the guise of a ‘poverty alleviation’ program in which companies and local governments received subsidies for forcing them to labor in manufacturing. With so many disappeared into and abused within this system, entire communities in Xinjiang—communities with rich histories and immeasurable cultural significance—have become ghost towns.”

Given these ongoing, well-documented abuses, American companies must scrupulously avoid forced Uyghur labor in their Chinese operations, including by carefully vetting arrangements with third-party labor agents. The new reports indicate 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.” Reuters also reported that in at least one case, Chinese officials paid to transport workers from Xinjiang to the Qinzhou facility, where they produce goods for export to the United States and elsewhere.

We believe these conditions bear obvious signs of forced labor. We are especially troubled that Universal Electronics appears to have done little to investigate or remedy the situation. According to Reuters, your spokesperson confirmed that Universal Electronics “does not conduct independent due diligence on where and how its workers are trained in Xinjiang” and “does not know how the workers are trained in Xinjiang or who pays for their transport.” 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.

Given these concerns, we request further information on Universal Electronics’ use of Uyghur labor. Please provide the following no later than November 5, 2021:

  • The text of your 2019 agreement with the Xinjiang government regarding Uyghur laborers. Who within Universal Electronics approved this agreement?
  • The number of Uyghur laborers currently employed in China (directly or through labor agents) and the locations of their employment.
  • Any documentation or other evidence substantiating your belief that “none of our workers at our facilities, including any of our China-based factories, are forced,” as stated on your website.
  • Details of employee training programs related to forced labor and human trafficking; records of third-party audits of facilities in China for forced labor violations; and certifications obtained from your third-party suppliers in China (including the labor agent that provided Uyghur workers for the Qinzhou plant) related to forced labor and human trafficking, or confirmation that no such programs, audits, or certifications exist.
  • Examples of the daily reports Universal Electronics agreed to provide to the Qinzhou police concerning Uyghur workers, as described in Chinese documents reviewed by Reuters. Who prepares these reports?
  • The content of any disclosures to shareholders or other stakeholders about the company’s use of transferred Uyghur laborers, or related legal risks to the company under applicable U.S. laws, such as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the Tariff Act of 1930.

We look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

###

Press Contact

Juan Pachon