Brow Beat

John Oliver Breaks Down the Human Rights Crisis Happening in China Right Now

In a lighthearted balm for the pandemic-agitated soul, John Oliver devoted the main segment of this week’s episode of Last Week Tonight to the topic of eyelashes—or so it seemed at first. Oliver began by featuring a TikTok makeup tutorial by Feroze Aziz with three simple steps: First, get an eyelash curler. Next, curl your lashes. And finally, “use the phone you’re using right now to search what’s happening in China, how they’re getting concentration camps, throwing innocent Muslims in there, separating their families from each other.”

As the self-proclaimed expert on “taking something fun and quickly ruining it,” Oliver followed her example and switched gears on his own show to talk about the systemic surveillance and imprisonment of the Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority, by the Chinese government. Over the course of the segment, Oliver detailed how the Uighurs in the Xinjiang region are “being shipped, and not always willingly, to work in factories across China.” Some of the companies they’ve been making products for include face mask suppliers, Nike, and Volkswagen. Oliver compared “finding out that Volkswagen is overlooking a massive human rights crisis” to “finding out that your grandparents are still having sex. Sure, it’s completely horrifying, but it shouldn’t be too shocking. After all, they’ve been doing it since World War II.”

The detainment of more than 1 million Uighurs in internment camps is finally receiving more attention in the United States. In May, Congress passed a bill with overwhelming bipartisan support that was meant to force Trump to take a stance on the human rights abuses. But though he signed it, Trump also reportedly told Chinese President Xi Jinping to “go ahead with building the camps.” What does that mean for the average American? Along with raising awareness, it means being conscious of the provenance of the products you buy. Last week, a coalition of more than 190 organizations issued a call to action, asking individuals and companies to sign a petition that asks for brands to cut ties with suppliers that use Uighur forced labor for at least 12 months. Perhaps TikTok—which, seemingly violating the platform’s own claims that it doesn’t censor political content outside China, temporarily suspended Aziz—should have a place on that list.