Three U.S. retail giants have pulled products made by tech surveillance specialists Lorex and Ezviz, following revelations by the tech press that the companies are linked to human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, home to Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups.
According to reports from American online news outlet TechCrunch and video surveillance news site IPMV, big-box retailers Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe’s terminated contracts with Lorex and Ezviz after the two news outlets questioned their partnerships.
In an email statement to VOA Mandarin, Home Depot said it has stopped selling products from both Lorex and Ezviz. “We committed to upholding the highest standards of ethical sourcing and we immediately stopped selling these products when this was brought to our attention,” said the statement, which is also on the company website.
Best Buy told TechCrunch that it was “discontinuing its relationship” with both Lorex and Ezviz. Lowe’s did not respond to a request from VOA Mandarin for comments, but a recent search shows neither Lorex nor Ezviz surveillance products are available on its website.
Lorex is a subsidiary of Dahua Technology. Ezviz is a brand of video surveillance cameras owned by Hikvision. Dahua and Hikvision were added to the U.S. government’s economic blacklist in 2019 for supplying Beijing with technology it uses to surveil ethnic groups.
Yet because the 2019 sanction covered only sales to the U.S. federal government, Lorex and Ezviz remained free to sell to private-sector buyers.
The proliferation of Chinese companies in the surveillance equipment sector reflects Beijing’s growing reliance on advanced technological tools to monitor the lives of its citizens in Xinjiang and to expand an already extensive surveillance infrastructure throughout China.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Xinjiang Bureau of Public Security uses what it calls the Integrated Joint Operations Platform, a system that gathers data on residents through iris scanners, digital cameras with face recognition, DNA samples and cellphone data.
In the China section of its 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the U.S. State Department said that Hikvision and other tech companies are related to the development of a “Uyghur alarm” based on a face-scanning camera system.
The report said the Chinese government is conducting significant human rights abuses against Uyghurs, including “mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and other members of predominantly Muslim minority groups in extrajudicial internment camps and an additional two million subjected to daytime-only ‘re-education’ training.”
China, which contends that Uyghurs hold extremist and separatist ideas, denies the allegations, saying that Xinjiang’s camps are “re-education” facilities aimed at combating terrorism.