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Placards outside the Chinese embassy in London. Photo: Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images

A trio of bipartisan senators sent a letter to Universal Electronics demanding the Nasdaq-listed company provide details on an alleged deal it struck with Chinese authorities to transport hundreds of Uyghur workers from Xinjiang to a plant in southern China.

Why it matters: The U.S. government has warned that businesses with supply chains and investments in Xinjiang, where China is accused of carrying out a genocide against Uyghur and other Muslim minorities, run a "high risk" of violating U.S. laws on forced labor.

Background: Universal Electronics acknowledged to Reuters this month that it has employed at least 400 Uyghurs as part of a worker-transfer agreement, but denied that they are treated any differently than other employees.

  • It's the first confirmed example of a U.S. company participating in what human rights groups have described as a forced labor program designed to coerce the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, where China has engaged in a campaign of mass detention and surveillance since at least 2017.
  • Universal has supplied equipment and software to Sony, Samsung, Microsoft and LG, among other tech companies, according to Reuters.

Driving the news: Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) are calling on Universal to provide details of its agreements with Chinese authorities, documentation proving that it is not using forced labor, and disclosures to shareholders about potential legal risks associated with the program.

  • The senators wrote in the letter that the Reuters report suggests the company "is choosing to turn a blind eye" to atrocities.
  • "If true, this is a serious failure in your firm’s ethical and fiduciary responsibilities - and, potentially, your duties under U.S. law," they warned.

What they're saying: "We look forward to working with Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Rubio, and Senator Merkley on the questions they raised in the letter," a Universal spokesman told Axios in a statement.

  • "UEI made the decision last week to end its relationship with the staffing agency that hired these workers based on feedback on how to best secure its supply chain and in light of ongoing regulatory and legislative changes globally."

Go deeper: Mapping repression in China's Xinjiang region

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from Universal.

Go deeper

Dec 6, 2021 - World

U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

An Olympic-themed sculpture in Beijing on Dec. 1. Photo: Hou Yu/China News Service via Getty Images

The U.S. announced Monday that it will not send officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The diplomatic boycott — which won't prevent American athletes from competing — marks a major escalation between the U.S. and China amid already heightened tensions over the CCP's treatment of Muslim minorities, military threats to Taiwan and economic tariffs.

California father and son accused of "reckless arson" in Calder Fire

Firefighters at the Caldor Fire along Highway 89 west of Lake Tahoe, California, in September. Photo: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

California officials said they arrested a father and son Wednesday on suspicion of starting the Caldor Fire, which threatened the Lake Tahoe area as it burned for over two months earlier this year. They deny any wrongdoing.

Why it matters: The wildfire was the 15th-biggest ever recorded in California, razing more than 1,000 structures, forcing thousands to evacuate and injuring five people as it burned across nearly 222,000 acres of land in El Dorado, Amador and Alpine counties.

New Zealand aims to create smoke-free generation with tobacco ban

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a December news conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand officials announced Thursday legislative plans to outlaw smoking by making it illegal to sell or supply tobacco products to the next generation as part of a lifetime ban.

Why it matters: "People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco," Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said in a statement announcing the proposed law, part of the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan.

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