Tibet group response to Thermo Fisher’s flawed reply to the Congressional Executive Commission on China
On Wednesday 25 January 2023, Thermo Fisher Vice President, Sandy Pound, shared the company’s response to a letter from Congressional-Executive Commission on China representatives  Senator Merkley, Representative Smith, Senator Rubio, and Representative McGovern, concerning the supply of DNA kits to Chinese police forces in occupied Tibet. 
Thermo Fisher’s response is deeply flawed and continues to ignore fundamental concerns from Tibetans and rights organizations.
This document highlights key points from Thermo Fisher’s response, followed by our rebuttals.
Thermo Fisher’s Reply: “The tenders cited by The Intercept – one Capillary Electrophoresis instrument in 2021 and approximately $160,000 worth of kits and parts in 2022 – are entirely consistent with a law enforcement entity engaging in routine forensics investigations in a locality with a population on par with the Tibet Autonomous Region.” -> “is consistent with”:
OUR RESPONSE: Thermo Fisher continues to push the line that policing in occupied Tibet is the same as policing in a country with appropriate fundamental rights safeguards and that the main function is carrying out conventional “police casework and forensics”. Would they honestly say this of the North Korean or Iranian police? It is widely recognized that these countries’ police forces are among the main drivers of human rights abuses, as they are in occupied Tibet, where they are responsible for, mass surveillance, suppression of protests, mass arbitrary detention, torture, and killings of Tibetans in custody. Law enforcement” in Tibet inevitably means monitoring and punishing an occupied people.
Thermo Fisher’s Reply: “That quantity supports about 4,000 samples for the year” -> “there can be no reasonable basis to conclude that the tender could support the DNA collection efforts”
OUR RESPONSE: The company could claim that not all of the products used in the mass DNA collection are Thermo Fisher’s, but if large numbers of Thermo Fisher DNA kits are being purchased by Chinese police forces in Tibet at the same time that an extensive DNA collection is taking place then it is a reasonable concern that Thermo Fisher’s DNA kits are being used as part of this effort.
To make an analogy, if an arms company sells guns to a government with an established track record of killing people under its rule with guns, that company is complicit, whether it is selling 100% or 1% of the guns. It certainly cannot claim it is not responsible for any of the killings or that its sales could not possibly “support” these killings.
Thermo Fisher’s Reply: “Additionally, we have not made any other substantial deliveries in the region.”
OUR RESPONSE: Thermo Fisher is downplaying the amount of DNA test products supplied by claiming there are no other “substantial deliveries” planned to the region. This response does not address our concerns or offer any insight into the DNA kits that have already been supplied and their use by the Chinese governments as part of the mass DNA collection campaign in Tibet.
Thermo Fisher’s Reply: “Thermo Fisher, therefore, is confident that the products that we or our distributors have provided are being used for their intended use in Tibet, namely police casework and forensics.” ->
OUR RESPONSE: This could be strongly challenged based on the pictures of systematic DNA collections and the announcements of such collections. You cannot deny that samples have been collected in a reckless fashion. So how could Thermo Fisher be sure that its products are not used to analyze those samples?
Thermo Fisher’s Resply: “In June 2021, the New York Times contacted us about sales in Xinjiang, and we confirmed to the paper that there were no sales by Thermo Fisher or any authorized distributor to the entities listed in the transaction data provided to us.” -> “authorized distributors” and “provided to us”:
OUR RESPONSE: This misses a fundamental part of the story: up to 2019, there had been sales to the Uyghur region. Only after pressure from media, human rights organizations and members of US Congress did Thermo Fisher finally commit to halting such sales*, citing “fact-specific assessments” and the company’s own “values, ethics code and policies”. These values and ethics must be applied to Tibet too; Thermo Fisher must immediately issue a corresponding commitment to halt all supplies of its products to Tibet. (*whether such sales actually stopped is another question)
Thermo Fisher’s Reply: We also have policies regarding the ethical and responsible sale of our technology. These policies follow widely accepted global scientific and ethical standards”.
OUR RESPONSE: The corporate social responsibility statement by Thermo Fisher regarding human rights is irrelevant in this context. One of Thermo Fisher’s competitors has adopted a meaningful statement:
Of note, in their governance and ethics document (https://corporate.thermofisher.com/content/tfcorpsite/us/en/index/corporate-social-responsibility/operations/governance-and-ethics.html) is their reference to the “Declaration of Helsinki”. This requires “informed consent” from subjects before they provide biological samples. The informed consent procedure requires that subjects have the purpose of these procedures explained to them without coercive language, with the right to refuse or withdraw consent later without repercussions, and to be informed about the storage of their personal data.
It is not plausible that DNA samples collected by police from Tibetans will only be used for forensic purposes. In a recent report, two publishing companies (Springer Nature and Wiley) expressed serious concerns about whether Chinese scientists using DNA technology on so-called “minority groups” had obtained informed consent from subjects (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03775-y).
Thermo Fisher did not address the question about how they or their third-party contractors guarantee the use of DNA samples strictly only for forensic use and prevent “spill-over” into research projects, or as they say “to ensure our products are being used as intended around the world.”
A more detailed explanation can be found in this summary: Ethical Principals on conducting research on human subjects – Uwe Maya.docx
ONGOING RESPONSE FROM TIBETAN COMMUNITY IN EXILE AND ALLIES:
- Representatives from the Tibetan Freedom Movement have contacted Thermo Fisher on multiple occasions,  pushing for detailed responses to questions  about the company’s knowledge of equipment sales to police in occupied Tibet and what steps the company has taken to prevent misuse of its products. The groups have also requested a meeting with Thermo Fisher CEO Marc Casper to explain the level of repression that Tibetans face from police in occupied Tibet.
- From Monday 30 January, global Tibet groups have begun a week of action carrying out protests, visiting Thermo Fisher offices, and sharing information online, demanding that Thermo Fisher halts the sales of DNA kits to Tibet. 
- Within 24 hours, over 2,000 people had sent emails to Marc Casper and Vice President Sandy Pound raising global concerns. 
- An online petition to Marc Casper had already accumulated 7,500 signatures prior to the week of action. 
For further information or comment, contact:
- John Jones, Head of Campaign, Policy and Research, Free Tibet |
Phone: +44 7591-188-383 | E: [email protected]
- Tenzin Yangzom, Grassroots Director, Students for a Free Tibet |
Phone: +1 617-682-6977 | E: [email protected]
- Mandie McKeown, Executive Director, International Tibet Network |
Phone: +44 7748-158-618 | E: [email protected]
NOTES TO EDITORS:
- Congressional-Executive Commission on China Bipartisan Letter to ThermoFisher Scientific, 15 December 2022, https://www.cecc.gov/sites/chinacommission.house.gov/files/documents/CECC%20Letter%20to%20Thermo%20Fisher%20-%2012.15.22.pdf
- Thermo Fisher reply to CECC Commissioners, 24 January 2023: PDF Version Thermo Fisher response to CECC January 2023.pdf
- Joint letter sent on 14 November 2022: https://tibetnetwork.org/free1/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Joint-Letter-to-Thermo-Fisher-November-2022.pdf
2nd joint letter sent on 29 November 2022: https://tibetnetwork.org/free1/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Joint-Letter-to-Thermo-Fisher-November-2022.pdf
3rd joint letter sent on 6 January 2023
- Questions to Thermo Fisher Scientific that remain unanswered:
- Can you please confirm and provide details about whether Thermo Fisher Scientific supplies sequences to any police or public security authorities who have jurisdiction over Tibet?
- Can you provide details regarding what steps Thermo Fisher Scientific has taken to monitor the use of its equipment to ensure that it is not used inappropriately in Tibet?
- Can you provide details of any human rights policies and procedures Thermo Fisher Scientific may have and how they apply to operations, sales, or other business in Tibet?