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BASF under fire for Chinese venture

German chemical giant is accused of links to human rights abuse of Uyghur people

by Alexander H. Tullo
February 8, 2024


A groundbreaking ceremony in Zhanjiang, China, for an acrylics complex.
Credit: BASF
BASF broke ground last year on an acrylics facility at a large complex it is building in Zhanjiang, China.

BASF is denying allegations that it is involved in civil rights abuses of Uyghur people in China’s Xinjiang region. The firm faces demands from politicians to pull out of its joint ventures there.

The charges surfaced in a joint investigation by the German news outlets Der Spiegel and ZDF. Their probe found that employees of Xinjiang Markor Chemical Industry, BASF’s partner in butanediol and polytetrahydrofuran joint ventures in the region, accompanied Chinese officials on visits to Uyghur families’ homes. According to Human Rights Watch, such visits, in which officials often stay in Uyghur homes for 5 days or longer, are meant to surveil and indoctrinate Uyghur families.

The Der Spiegel and ZDF article draws from the work of Adrian Zenz, an anthropologist and senior fellow with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Zenz says the employees’ actions are well documented. “A corroborating public report by the China Industry Federation says that in February 2018, Markor ‘work teams’ became ‘immersed’ in ethnic villages, ‘eating, sleeping, working and studying with villagers,’ and joining village flag-raising ceremonies. (Villagers who failed to attend these were detained in camps.),” Zenz wrote on the social media site X on Feb. 2.

“We currently have no reason to believe that employees from our joint ventures were involved in the measures described,” BASF says in a statement. It promises to “continue to investigate” the matter.

BASF says it audited its Markor joint ventures, which employ about 120 people, in 2019, 2020, and 2023. “As a result, we can confirm that none of these reviews have found any evidence of forced labor or other human rights violations,” the company says.

BASF’s investigations don’t satisfy the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an organization that monitors relations between democratic countries and China and is made up of lawmakers from Germany and other countries. “The reports indicate the shocking degree to which your company appears to be implicated in gross abuses of the Uyghur and other predominantly Turkic minorities in the region,” the alliance says in a letter to BASF chairman Martin Brudermüller. “We urge BASF to withdraw from Xinjiang.”

“We take the letter very seriously,” BASF says in response to questions from C&EN. It adds that it “will approach the signatories promptly and make them an offer of dialogue.”

BASF started up the butanediol joint venture with Markor, which was already a butanediol producer, in January 2016. The plant has 100,000 metric tons (t) per year of annual capacity for the product. The polytetrahydrofuran partnership started later that year with 50,000 t per year of capacity. Polytetrahydrofuran is used in elastic fibers such as spandex.

BASF’s involvement in China has been deepening. In 2019, it started constructing an integrated chemical complex in Zhanjiang, China, that will cost more than $10 billion. Later this year, Markus Kamieth, the head of BASF’s China operations, will take over as the firm’s chairman.


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