Social media giant TikTok has denied allegations that its parent company is supplying the China’s authoritarian state with surveillance equipment to persecute Uighur Muslims.
Reports dating back to last year accused ByteDance of working with authorities in Xinjiang after it signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the Chinese Ministry of Public Security.
MPs on the House of Commons business committee, who are investigating what role industry has in human rights abuses in the Uighur autonomous region, questioned executives about the issue on Thursday.
Elizabeth Kanter, UK director of government relations and public policy at TikTok, told MPs: “Because of the seriousness of the allegation, I’ve spoken to colleagues who run the douyin app in China and I can unequivocally deny the allegations against the company.
“ByteDance Ltd nor any of its subsidiaries produce, operate or disseminate any sort of surveillance equipment.
“The company does not have any personnel related to surveillance, so those allegations are false. I was first made aware of the allegations when I read the reports and saw the statements you have made.”
TikTok is one of the world’s fastest growing social networks has in October surpassed over two billion mobile downloads worldwide. It is the international version of Douyin, a Chinese app with similar functionality that was first released in 2016.
The app, on which users share short videos set to music, has faced criticising in the past for allegedly censoring political content – though the firm denies this is its policy and has attributed high-profile instances of content being delete to errors by its moderators.
US president Donald Trump has said he will ban the app, and it has also been restricted in India in the context of a border dispute between the Indian and Chinese governments.
At the same committee hearing MPs also grilled representatives of clothing retailers on what they were doing to prevent cotton or fabric produced with forced labour of Uighur Muslims from entering their supply chains.
Andrew Reaney, group director of responsible sourcing at online clothes store Boohoo, said the firm was “shocked” at the allegations.
“Our Boohoo code of conduct explicitly prohibits any bonded, forced or involuntary labour in any part of our supply chain,” he said.
“We were quite shocked by the revelations around the Uighurs and what’s happening in the Xinjiang province.
“One of the things we did was, we wrote to all our suppliers across the supply chain to confirm that we have no manufacturing or fabric links to that particular region.
“That was done and all of our suppliers confirmed that they have no manufacturing or fabric links to that region.”
Human rights groups have accused China of mass detention, surveillance and reeducation of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), with higher estimates claiming as many one million people have been directly persecuted. China denies some of the allegations and says it operates a targeted programme to root out political extremism.