German firm BASF to pull out of Xinjiang after Uyghur abuse claims

The German chemicals producer BASF has said it will withdraw from its two joint ventures in Xinjiang, after media reports about alleged human rights abuses relating to its partner company, which BASF’s CEO said crossed a red line.

In a statement on Friday, BASF said that while “regular due diligence measures including internal and external audits have not found any evidence of human rights violations in the two joint ventures”, the recent reports “indicate activities inconsistent with BASF’s values”.

On Monday, a group of politicians from around the world urged BASF to withdraw from Xinjiang, a region in north-west China where there are widespread reports of state-sponsored human rights abuses.

The politicians’ letter followed reports in German media that people employed by BASF’s Chinese partner company, Xinjiang Markor Chemical Industry, also known as Markor Chemical, accompanied Chinese state officials on home visits to Uyghur households as part of a government initiative that human rights groups have said is used to spy on people and indoctrinate them.

The alleged visits are said to have happened in 2018 and 2019, at the height of the Chinese government’s campaign to suppress Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. Beijing describes its policies in Xinjiang as counter-terrorism and poverty reduction measures and says it promotes ethnic harmony in the region.

BASF said on Friday that it had decided in the final three months of 2023 to divest from the two joint ventures because of “the market environment and product carbon footprints” of the chemicals made at the plants in Xinjiang. It said it would accelerate that process after the recent reports about Markor Chemical. The two joint ventures are BASF’s only projects in Xinjiang, although it also has facilities in other parts of China.

BASF’s CEO, Martin Brudermüller, met a group of legislators including the German MEP Reinhard Bütikofer and the British MP Iain Duncan Smith on Friday. The letter requesting a meeting was coordinated by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a cross-party group of legislators focused on China.

Brudermüller is understood to have said in the meeting that several audits since 2019, both internal and external, “did not reveal any wrongdoings or something that would compromise our standards”, but the latest allegations relating to BASF’s partner company represented a “red line” that had been crossed.

Pressed by Arfiya Eri, a Japanese politician, on separate reports of rape, forced marriage and forced consumption of pork and alcohol against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, as well as the home visits, Brudermüller said the descriptions were something that “a normal mind cannot imagine”, saying that evidence of abuses in Xinjiang “reminds you of black chapters in many other, let’s say areas of history, including my own country”. He stressed that BASF was not “in any way involved in this”. It is not alleged that Markor was involved in rape or other abuses.

Brudermüller did not elaborate on a timeline for the withdrawal but said he hoped it would be within the next few months.

Eri said BASF’s decision to withdraw from Xinjiang was “groundbreaking and historically significant”.

Bütikofer said: “I applaud the steps that BASF has taken and take the company at its word when it says they wish to withdraw as soon as they possibly can. By deciding to withdraw, BASF has removed any excuse other companies were hiding behind to remain.”

According to BASF’s most recent full-year financial statements, its companies in Greater China accounted for 14% of total sales in 2022.

BASF has been approached for further comment.


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