Thermo Fisher Halts DNA Kit Sales in Tibet, Rights Groups Celebrate Campaign Victory

By Tsering Choephel

Activists from SFT protest outside Thermo Fisher Scientific’s headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts, US. Image: SFT.

DHARAMSALA, 4 Jan: Thermo Fisher Scientific, the US-based biotechnology company, announced discontinuing its sales of DNA collection kits to Chinese authorities in Tibet following rigorous campaigns from rights groups and pressure from the US Congress, as reported by Wednesday.

“Based on a number of factors we made the decision in mid-2023 to cease sales of HID (Human Identification) products in the regions (Tibet) and no longer sell our human identification technology in the Tibet Autonomous Region,” a Thermo Fisher spokesperson has told Axios in an emailed statement.

A report in September 2022 by Citizen Lab revealed China’s mass gathering of DNA samples from about 920,000 to 1.2 million Tibetans. The report stated, “Our analysis indicates that for years, police across Tibet have collected DNA samples from men, women, and children, none of whom appear to be criminal suspects,” exposing malpractice and grave violations of human rights.

The United Nations Human Rights Watch, in the same month, condemned China’s systematic collection of DNA from Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region, with victims including children as young as 5. “There is no publicly available evidence suggesting people can decline to participate” in the DNA collection, pointing to the enforced participation of Tibetans in China’s nefarious program.

Since the release of the 2022 report that exposed the biotechnology company as the key supplier of DNA test kits and other devices to occupied Tibet, Tibet rights campaigners, including Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), the International Tibet Network, Free Tibet, International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), and others, carried out rigorous campaigns of lobbying and demonstrations, aiming to put an end to this collusion between the US company and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In May 2023, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at Freedom House’s annual Freedom Awards ceremony, said, “We’re also concerned by reports of the spread of mass DNA collection to Tibet as an additional form of control and surveillance over the Tibetan population.”

Uzra Zeya, the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, earlier expressed concerns and said, “We call on the [People’s Republic of China] to stop these repressive policies and respect the fundamental freedoms of Tibetans.”

According to SFT’s press release on Wednesday, Thermo Fisher’s announcement comes after “investors join Tibet activists in expressing concern about Thermo Fisher human ID products being used in human rights violations committed by Chinese authorities.” The investors include Azzad Asset Management, alongside European asset manager Ambienta, asset owner Mount St. Scholastica, and individual investor Mari Mennel-Bell.

Bell, who professed a sustaining concern about human rights violations in Tibet said “I am pleased that Thermo Fisher Scientific has listened and taken action to end any complicity. This process shows that companies should not assume that individual shareholders will be passive investors. Increasingly they are following their consciences to push companies to do the right thing.”

Thermo Fisher’s management says it’s committed to halting all sales of HID products – directly and via third parties – to Tibet. Earlier, the company banned sales of such products in East Turkistan due to global pressure for CCP’s genocidal policies in the region, including the use of the company’s HID products in suppression.

Chemi Lhamo, campaign director at SFT said “Companies must understand that their complacency enables repression in occupied Tibet. Thermo Fisher, the top bioinformatics company, accepted the evidence we shared about the reality of policing in Tibet and has taken action to end its DNA kit sales in Tibet. This is the result of our collective organising, and the same power will continue to hold Thermo Fisher to its promise.”

Tencho Gyatso, ICT President welcomed the news and attributed the victory to collective activism. “Now we must go further, from pressuring businesses to end their complicity in China’s human rights abuses against Tibetans, to pushing the Chinese government to resolve its decades-long occupation of Tibet through peaceful dialogue with Tibetan leaders,” she said

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