Tibet campaigners welcome biotech giant’s U-turn following year-long campaign, and pledge to ensure that Thermo Fisher keeps its word

Tibet rights campaigners have welcomed a commitment by Boston-based biotech giant Thermo Fisher Scientific to halt sales of its DNA test kits (“HID”) products to police in occupied Tibet.

Thermo Fisher communicated this commitment to shareholders in a letter in December and it took effect on 31 December 2023.

The announcement comes after more than a year of campaigning by Tibet groups.

Tenzin Yangzom from International Tibet Network said: “Successfully getting the world’s largest biotech company – Thermo Fisher – to listen and change its policies is no mean feat, but this is exactly what the Tibet movement has done! As we celebrate this success we also want to remind Thermo Fisher that we will be monitoring their actions to ensure they keep the commitment to end their complicity in China’s mass DNA surveillance of Tibetans.”

Tenzin Rabga from Free Tibet said: “After over a year of determined campaigning, 2023 ended with a huge victory for Tibet. These commitments from Thermo Fisher will have a real-world impact that reverberates from its offices in Boston to Tibetans in occupied Tibet. We hope that other companies collaborating in the repression in Tibet will take notice of this victory because we are coming for them next.”

The campaign was prompted by reports in 2022 revealing that Chinese police forces in occupied Tibet had been extensively using Thermo Fisher’s HID products, including DNA testing kits and DNA sequencing equipment to carry out a widespread, ethnically-targeted collection of DNA samples from Tibetans. Research group Citizen Lab estimated that samples had already been taken from as many as 1.2 million Tibetans to build a massive DNA database holding the genetic information of men and boys. A separate report from Human Rights Watch found that children as young as five were made to submit samples.

Uwe Meya from the Swiss-Tibetan Friendship Association said: “Tibet was already one of the most repressive, closely-monitored, least private places on Earth before the Chinese government broke new frontiers with this mass DNA collection, which put Tibetans’ bodies up for scrutiny and treated every Tibetan as a criminal suspect. We had to challenge Thermo Fisher’s involvement with this architecture of repression and we are delighted to see that the company has committed to abide with its own bioethics guiding principles and halt sales to Tibet.”

Following these revelations, Tibet groups reached out to Thermo Fisher’s CEO, Marc Casper, seeking a meeting to discuss the dire human rights situation in Tibet. The lack of engagement from the company prompted the launch of a full campaign in winter 2022. Over the following 12 months, Tibet groups carried out global demonstrations at Thermo Fisher offices, including huge rallies in Boston during the company’s annual general meeting in May 2023, while nearly 80,000 people sent messages to Marc Casper, urging him to halt sales of HID products to Tibet.

During the campaign, Tibet groups worked closely with science experts, corporate campaigners, and several Thermo Fisher shareholders, building a coalition that grew as the campaign gained momentum.

Chemi Lhamo, Campaign Director at Students for a Free Tibet commented: “Companies must understand that their complacency enables repression in occupied Tibet. Thermo Fisher, the top bioinformatics company, accepted the evidence we shared about the reality of policing in Tibet and has taken action to end its DNA kit sales in Tibet. This is the result of our collective organizing, and the same power will continue to hold Thermo Fisher to its promise.”

In December 2023 Thermo Fisher management communicated to shareholders that as of 31 of the month, it would halt all direct and indirect sales of its HID products to Tibet. Management also indicated openness to dialogues with investors on implementing the block on sales.