Why Don’t Companies Care About the Uyghurs?

There’s no way around it: The situation in Ukraine is nothing short of devastating. Firms and governments across the world are taking unprecedented steps against Putin’s actions. Almost 1,000 companies have restricted activities in Russia. But where are these restrictions over the genocides against the Uyghurs in China?

Volkswagen, a company that famously used Jews as slave labour to profit during the Holocaust, recently announced that they will stop the production and suspend exports of vehicles to Russia.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Volkswagen plans on suspending operations in Xinjiang, an area where over one million Uyghurs are detained in concentration camps, are forcibly sterilized, and subject to abortions, rape and tortured. Not only is Volkswagen operating in the Uyghur Region, that they are using Uyghur slave labour to directly profit from largest incarceration of an ethnic minority since the Holocaust.

Just four days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Airbnb made headlines for offering to host up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. They certainly have a better track record than Volkswagen regarding human rights abuses, having offered 20,000 Afghan refugees free accommodation. Yet, they continue to offer homes to rent in Xinjiang. Even more shocking was their official sponsorship of the Beijing 2022 Olympics, despite the numerous human rights abuses the CCP continues to launch against  Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers and other minorities.

These companies are not alone in their double standards. Tata Steel, a part of the Tata Group Conglomerate, announced it would stop doing business with Russia. Yet Tata Motors continues to supply military equipment to the Burmese military, who commit genocide against the Rohingya. Similarly, BP abandoned its stake in the Russian oil giant Rosneft, yet it continues to operate in countries such as Azerbaijan, which is accused by the US State Department of unlawful killings, torture and physical abuse, with strong repression of civil liberties.

These double standards are not limited to businesses. They also apply to governments more broadly. It took the American government less than two months to call what was happening in Ukraine a “genocide.” In contrast it took a over century to declare the mass killings of Armenians a Genocide. Under President Clinton, the US refused to acknowledge the attempted destruction of the Tutsis in Rwanda as Genocide until four year after despite documents later revealing how he knew exactly was going on from the intelligence he was receiving, and the actions clearly met the legal definition of a Genocide. And the UN doesn’t seem bothered by any abuses outside of those committed by Big Bad Russia — while Russia has been removed from the UN Human Rights Council, China’s seat remains unthreatened, and Iran has just been appointed to the UN Women’s Rights Council. It’s insanity.

Approximately 5000 Afghan refugees were resettled in Germany, the highest number of Afghan refugees in any in Europe. Yet it looks negligible when compared to the 320,0000 Ukrainian refugees who have been taken in by Germany.

In order to change this, we need to employ a more utilitarian framework when tackling human rights. Many firms and governments act on certain human rights issues, claiming it is due to the severity of what is going on. In contrast the real reasons behind actions against human rights violations are far less morally sound. Public pressure leads to the prioritisation of white Europeans over Africans and Asians, whose suffering is often wholly ignored, despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating ‘All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ 

We must start caring about all lives equally, ensuring governments, companies, mainstream media and ordinary individuals do not continue prioritising certain issues over others based on unjust factors. We need greater quantitative analysis to look at human rights as an economic issue, where we best distribute our scarce resources to help the maximum number of people in the greatest amount of need. The international response to the Ukraine crisis has been unexpected and in many ways very admirable. Yet, the stronger response seems due to Western nations prioritising European white lives over those from further flung faces. This leads to greater public pressure on companies and governments to act on injustices facing these people. But if we acknowledge that all lives objectively have equal value, why can’t we treat victims of other atrocities with the same respect?

Jonathan Gibson is Founder of Youth Social Action Organisation Burst the Bubble UK, a consultant of Stop Uyghur Genocide and Réne Cassin, and a Contributor to Young Voices UK.