The German chemicals producer BASF “appears to be implicated in gross abuses” of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and should withdraw from the Chinese province, a group of politicians from around the world have said.
The group made the allegation in a letter to BASF’s chair, Martin Brudermüller, on Monday, after the German media outlets Der Spiegel and ZDF published a joint investigation on Friday.
The investigation found that in 2018 and 2019 people employed by BASF’s Chinese partner company, Xinjiang Markor Chemical Industry, in Xinjiang accompanied Chinese state officials on home visits to Uyghur households, as part of a government initiative that human rights groups have said is used to spy on people and indoctrinate them.
The visits were part of the fanghuiju campaign, in which officials from government agencies, state-owned enterprises and public institutions in Xinjiang visit Uyghurs and other minorities at home to collect information and monitor people’s behaviour.
Human Rights Watch has described fanghuiju visits as invasive and said that “families are required to provide officials with information about their lives and political views, and are subjected to political indoctrination”.
The letter sent on Monday, signed by more than 30 politicians, said: “The reports [in the German media] indicate the shocking degree to which your company appears to be implicated in gross abuses of the Uyghur and other predominantly Turkic minorities in the region.
“As advocates for corporate responsibility, human rights due diligence and respect for basic rights, we urge BASF to withdraw from Xinjiang. The credibility and integrity of your company are at stake, and we believe it is crucial for you to take swift and decisive action in addressing this matter.
“It is our hope that BASF will take this matter seriously and prioritise the wellbeing of those in Xinjiang who are suffering grievously under oppressive and discriminatory policies.”
The investigation was based on research by an independent researcher, Adrian Zenz, who drew on state media and corporate and social responsibility reports.
Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim Turkic ethnic group, have long had a fractious relationship with Beijing, which accuses many of them of wanting to break away from Chinese rule.
The alleged visits are said to have taken place at the height of the Chinese government’s campaign to intern hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.
Beyond the camps, people in Xinjiang have described pervasive levels of surveillance and control over their daily lives. A former UN human rights chief described China’s policies in Xinjiang as amounting to “serious human rights violations” that may constitute crimes against humanity.
BASF runs two chemical factories in Xinjiang, launched in collaboration with the Chinese company Xinjiang Markor Chemical Industry in 2016. One factory makes butanediol, a chemical used in plastics and sportswear. The other makes PolyTHF, a material used to make elastic spandex fibres.
About 120 people work across the two ventures, which are located in Korla, the second most populous city in Xinjiang.
A spokesperson for BASF said: “We currently have no reason to believe that employees from our joint ventures were involved in the measures described. Irrespective of this, we take the current reports very seriously, will continue to investigate them and will take them into account in our assessment of business relationships.”
Last week BASF told Der Spiegel that it respected human rights and that its Korla sites were regularly inspected. It said it took the allegations seriously and that it would investigate them further.
Responding to an AFP report on the investigation, BASF said it had not been aware of any reports made by Markor employees and that its own audits of its joint ventures in Korla had found no evidence of forced labour or other human rights violations.
Xinjiang Markor Chemical Industry is a subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned Xinjiang Zhongtai Group. Last year the US government imposed sanctions on Xinjiang Zhongtai because of concerns that the company used forced labour.
There is no suggestion that the BASF joint ventures with Xinjiang Markor Chemical Industry use forced labour.
The letter was coordinated by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a cross-party group of legislators focused on China. Its signatories included the German MEP Reinhard Bütikofer and the British MP Iain Duncan Smith, as well as legislators from Ukraine, New Zealand, Canada and Belgium, among other countries.
Sarah Champion, a British Labour MP and IPAC member, said: “Companies cannot pretend to be surprised that atrocities are being committed against Uyghurs and other minorities in the region. They have had years to withdraw from Xinjiang.”