Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Apple’s Proposed Changes to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act

A couple of weeks ago, Reed Albergotti of the Washington Post broke a story alleging that Apple was proposing changes to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act that would “weaken” it. This was complicated by reporting from Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian who said that, though Apple was engaged in lobbying related to the bill, “[it] is not accurate to say that Apple’s aim is to water down key provisions”.

However, neither reporter clarified what Apple’s proposed changes were. I wrote that:

[…] 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.

Which brings me to this reporting from Ana Swanson of the New York Times:

According to a document viewed by The New York Times, Apple’s suggested edits to the bill included extending some deadlines for compliance, releasing certain information about supply chains to congressional committees rather than to the public, and requiring Chinese entities to be “designated by the United States government” as helping to surveil or detain Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.

Those are three changes, so let’s walk through them:

  1. “Extending some deadlines for compliance” — this is the closest example of “weakening” that I can find, but it still implies that Apple has every intention of complying. Perhaps some deadlines may be unrealistic, or maybe Apple is dragging its feet. It is unclear from this report.

  2. “Releasing certain information about supply chains to congressional committees rather than to the public” — this may be completely reasonable. Supply chains are notoriously seen as secret sauce in any industry. Maybe there is information Apple does not want publicized that is harmful to its reputation but, as one of the few companies that audits its supply chain in depth and publishes those results on its own website, it is more likely that this is for competition reasons.

  3. “Requiring Chinese entities to be ‘designated by the United States government’ as helping to surveil or detain Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang” — this is almost the opposite of “watering down” the bill. According to Swanson’s report, Apple wants the U.S. government to be clear about which organizations are worrisome. If this is done properly, it could be more useful. For example, if a company is marked as abusive by the U.S. government, every U.S. company will have to behave in the same way and it can inform organizations in other countries of businesses they should avoid.

If Swanson’s reporting is accurate, it directly contradicts the “weakening” reported by Albergotti. The first change may show a lack of urgency, or it may not; the second is completely reasonable; and the third, I think, could actually make the bill more effective, not less.