Thermo Fisher halts DNA equipment sales to Tibet

Cautious optimism as campaigning groups around the world celebrate an end to Thermo Fisher's complicity in human rights abuse in Tibet.

Tibet campaigning groups have welcomed a commitment from Thermo Fisher Scientific to halt sales of its DNA testing equipment to police in occupied Tibet. 

In a communication to shareholders in December, the influential biotech company pledged that there would be no further direct or third party sales to Tibet as of 31 December 2023. 

Thermo Fisher’s management also committed to maintaining an ongoing dialogue with stakeholders to ensure that their commitment to end sales in Tibet is implemented.

The letter comes after over a year of concerted action spearheaded by a group of Tibet organisations including Free Tibet, International Tibet Network, Students for a Free Tibet and the Swiss-Tibetan Friendship Association.

The campaign was prompted by separate reports in 2022 by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and Human Rights Watch, revealing that police in occupied Tibet had systematically taken DNA samples from as many as 1.2 million people, including young children, and were compiling an extensive DNA database, violating Tibetans’ right to privacy. 

While this extensive DNA collection was taking place, an investigation by the Intercept found documents showing that Chinese police forces in occupied Tibet were purchasing thousands of pounds worth of Thermo Fisher’s products, including DNA testing kits and DNA sequencing equipment. Only one month before the report, in August 2023, police were found to have purchased $160,000 worth of DNA profiling kits and associated equipment.

Tibet groups reacted to these findings by contacting Thermo Fisher’s CEO, Marc Casper, seeking a meeting to discuss the human rights situation in Tibet. The lack of engagement from the company prompted the launch of a full campaign in winter 2022. 

Political theatre outside Thermo Fisher’s headquarters last May

Over the ensuing 12 months, Tibet groups carried out global demonstrations at Thermo Fisher offices, including huge rallies in Boston during the company’s annual general meeting in May 2023. Meanwhile, nearly 80,000 people sent messages to Marc Casper, urging him to halt sales of DNA tests kits to Tibet. 

Despite the news from Thermo Fisher that sales to Tibet will be blocked, Tibet campaigners have promised to continue to monitor the situation to ensure that there are no further sales to police in Tibet.

Tenzin Rabga at a protest against Thermo Fisher in Cambridge, Massachusetts

One of those actively involved in the campaign, Tenzin Rabga from Free Tibet, summed up the victory and issued a warning to other companies that might risk being involved in repression in Tibet:

“After over a year of determined campaigning, 2023 ended with a huge victory for Tibet. These commitments from Thermo Fisher will have a real-world impact that reverberates from its offices in Boston to Tibetans in occupied Tibet. We hope that other companies collaborating in the repression in Tibet will take notice of this victory, because we are coming for them next.”

We are Free Tibet, and we stand with Tibetans around the world. For their homeland, for their future and against China’s brutal occupation.