Jan 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Dems question Airbnb over Xinjiang rentals on land owned by sanctioned group

Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky speaking in San Francisco, California, in 2015.

Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky speaking in San Francisco in 2015. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) raised concerns about Airbnb's business activities in China's Xinjiang region in a letter to the company's CEO on Friday.

Why it matters: An Axios investigation last year revealed that Airbnb has more than a dozen homes available for rent in Xinjiang on land owned by an organization sanctioned by the U.S. government for complicity in genocide and forced labor against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the region.

Catch up quick: Axios identified 14 Airbnb listings on land owned by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a large paramilitary organization that controls vast swaths of Xinjiang's land, natural resources and economy and has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department.

  • Airbnb, one of 14 top-level sponsors of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, maintained that it believes the sanction does not apply to these listings.
  • Merkley and McGovern are the chair and co-chair, respectively, of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which was created in 2000 to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in the country.

What they're saying: "We write to raise concerns over Airbnb’s business activities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China and to raise questions about Airbnb’s commitment to human rights and anti-discrimination in China as it sponsors the Beijing Winter Olympics," Merkley and McGovern wrote in a letter addressed to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.

  • "While Airbnb continues to maintain listings in the XUAR, it has not publicly condemned the continuing genocide taking place there, or other egregious, systematic human rights abuses being carried out against ethnic minorities in China," they added.
  • "It also continues to operate in a country whose laws require hosts to discriminate based on ethnicity, place of origin, or lack of a passport, when the ability to obtain a passport can be impossible for people of some ethnic groups."

The big picture: The lawmakers called on the company to disclose whether it is taking action to remedy human rights violations in Xinjiang and in China overall.

  • They also questioned if the company will ensure that no future listings are located on property owned by XPCC or other entities sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) criticized Airbnb in a letter sent to the company in December, saying it "is implicitly endorsing and encouraging travel to Xinjiang, a region host to an ongoing genocide" by continuing to allow the listings.

Go deeper: Airbnb hosts Xinjiang rentals on land owned by sanctioned group

Go deeper