Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Apple and the Prevention of Forced Uyghur Labour

Reed Albergotti, Washington Post:

Apple lobbyists are trying to weaken a bill aimed at preventing forced labor in China, according to two congressional staffers familiar with the matter, highlighting the clash between its business imperatives and its official stance on human rights.

[…]

The staffers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks with the company took place in private meetings, said Apple was one of many U.S. companies that oppose the bill as it’s written. They declined to disclose details on the specific provisions Apple was trying to knock down or change because they feared providing that knowledge would identify them to Apple. But they both characterized Apple’s effort as an attempt to water down the bill.

When I read this story on Friday, I decided to sit on it because I wanted to choose my words very carefully. It became more complicated when, over the weekend, Axios’ China reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian posted a series of tweets that raised doubts about the accuracy of Albergotti’s story:

According to sources I have spoken to with knowledge of the matter, this Washington Post story does not accurately characterize Apple’s position on the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

It is not accurate to say that Apple’s aim is to water down key provisions of the bill, and it is not accurate to characterize Apple as lobbying against the bill.

In replies to another user, Allen-Ebrahimian added a little more context:

The sources I spoke to are not afraid of legal ramifications and do not have Apple’s best interests at heart. The story is simply not accurate.

[…]

It is correct that representatives from Apple have been speaking to lawmakers.

Allen-Ebrahimian has not elaborated, either on Twitter or Axios. This is a murky subject compounded by the secrecy of supply chains in general and China’s dishonest portrayal of its reprehensible treatment of Uyghurs.

Earlier this year, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute published a brutal report spotlighting the use of forced Uyghur labour by suppliers to dozens of companies that are household names. From that report:

China has attracted international condemnation for its network of extrajudicial ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang. This report exposes a new phase in China’s social re-engineering campaign targeting minority citizens, revealing new evidence that some factories across China are using forced Uyghur labour under a state-sponsored labour transfer scheme that is tainting the global supply chain.

[…]

In December 2017, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook visited one of the company’s contractors — O-Film Technology Co. Ltd (欧菲光科技股份有限公司) — and posted a picture of himself at the company’s Guangzhou factory on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

O-Film manufactured the ‘selfie cameras’ for the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. The company also claims on its website to manufacture camera modules and touchscreen components for a number of other well-known companies including Huawei, Lenovo and Samsung.

Prior to Cook’s visit, between 28 April and 1 May 2017, 700 Uyghurs were reportedly transferred from Lop county, Hotan Prefecture, in Xinjiang to work at a separate O-Film factory in Nanchang, Jiangxi province.

At the time, Apple said that its supply chain audits had not revealed any use of forced labour by imprisoned Uyghurs, and the United States banned the use of parts from O-Film and ten other companies. Apple confirmed that they had audited O-Film three times earlier this year and “found no evidence of any forced labor on Apple production lines”.

I sincerely hope that Allen-Ebrahimian’s sources are right. Forced labour — in general, but especially by those imprisoned for their religious beliefs — is not a public relations problem. It is a crime against human rights. Whatever products we buy, we should have the expectation that the people involved in making it were treated respectfully, compensated fairly, had adequate protection against hazards, and were not employed under duress — at the very least. There is no good excuse to expect anything less.

And, so, I hope that any objections Apple — or any other company or person — has to this bill are because it does not go far enough or that it will not be effective as written. Regulations like these should be in place so that we do not have to research every product’s manufacturer’s supplier’s supplier’s supplier’s suppliers to figure out if it meets a baseline of ethics. We are not that well informed, nor can we be, and we must have rules so that we can never choose to support human rights violations.

Update: For clarity, this stance applies equally to domestic prison labour.