Jan 3, 2024 - World

Exclusive: Thermo Fisher halts DNA collection kit sales in Tibet

People visit Thermo Fisher booth during the 5th China International Import Expo on November 5, 2022 in Shanghai, China. Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images.

Biotechnology company Thermo Fisher Scientific has halted sales of DNA collection kits to Tibet after criticism from rights groups and pressure from Congress, the company tells Axios.

Why it matters: Chinese police are reportedly building a massive DNA database of Tibetans, who live under the Chinese government's repressive policies.

Driving the news: "Based on a number of factors we made the decision in mid-2023 to cease sales of HID products in the region and no longer sell our human identification technology in the Tibet Autonomous Region," a Thermo Fisher spokesperson told Axios in an emailed statement.

  • Thermo Fisher's HID (human identification) technology has "important forensic applications, from tracking down criminals, to stopping human trafficking and freeing the unjustly accused" and its HID sales in Tibet were "consistent with routine forensic investigation in an area of this size," the spokesperson added.

Background: In 2022, reports based on Chinese government documents revealed Chinese police were engaging in mass DNA collection in Tibet, and they had purchased equipment from Thermo Fisher.

  • Since then, the company has faced pressure to cease sales of its products in Tibet.
  • In late 2022, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China's commissioners wrote a letter to Thermo Fisher president and CEO Marc Casper expressing concern about the company's sales in Tibet and asking Casper to undertake a "rigorous review" of how its products were being used in the region.
  • Rights groups including International Campaign for Tibet, Human Rights Watch, and Students for a Free Tibet have also called for the company to end sales.

What they're saying: "This is the power of our collective organizing," said Chemi Lhamo, campaign director at Students for a Free Tibet, in a statement provided to Axios.

  • "Companies must do better in critically examining the reality of the brutal repression and human rights violations of Tibetans in occupied Tibet, rather than allowing their heads to be turned by the promise of profits from sales and access to cheap labor in China."

Flashback: In 2019 Thermo Fisher said it would cease sales of DNA kits to police in Xinjiang who have used genetic data to strengthen surveillance and control over Uyghur residents.

Go deeper: China makes genetic data a national resource

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