In March 2020, a novel report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute titled “Uyghurs for sale” reveals the overwhelming number of international and American brands whose supply chain has been tainted with forced labor in the Xinjiang region of China. Among the list are Adidas, Amazon, BMW, Calvin Klein, Fila, Gap, Google, H&M, L.L.Bean, Lacoste, Microsoft, Nike, Nintendo, Puma, Samsung, Sony, Tommy Hilfiger, Uniqlo, Zara, and perhaps the most influential tech company of the world currently- Apple.
While a select few of such implicated brands and companies, such as Lacoste and Adidas, have released public statements in which they promise to “cease all activity with suppliers and subcontractors” that use forced Uyghur labor, the majority of the brands on the list have made little to no public acknowledgement of their mention in the report and the evidence that shows that they engage in coercive labor. However, Apple has spoken out greatly on the issue, though not to apologize for its actions or state a guarantee of improved practices. Rather, they have rejected their mention in the report:
In July 2020, Apple spokesperson Josh Rosenstock claimed that “Apple is dedicated to ensuring everyone in our supply chain is treated with dignity and respect. We have found no evidence of any forced labor on Apple production lines and we plan to continue monitoring.”
Years prior, in December 2017, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook personally visited O-Film Technology Co. Ltd., one of its major contractors and product suppliers, and he even posted a picture to Weibo of himself chatting with the workers at the factory. According to a press release by O-Film that has since been redacted, during his visit to the company, Cook claimed that the factory had a “humane approach towards employees’ and that the employees were ‘able to gain growth at the company, and live happily.” While it is questionable whether Cook actually stated this, or whether it was simply a false quote that O-Film included on its website to promote its work and distract from any criticisms, what is known is that Cook’s visit came less than a year after 700 Uyghurs were allegedly transported on trains from Hotan, Xinjiang to forcibly work in O-Film’s Nanchang factory.
Now, it has been publicly confirmed through official records that Apple paid Fierce Government Relations lobbying firm $90,000 to lobby the United States Senate regarding multiple bills related to forced labor: Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in the House(H.R.6210), Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act (H.R.6270), and Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in the Senate (S.3471). However, it has not yet been revealed whether this lobbying was for or against the bills. Taking into consideration Apple’s denial of responsibility regarding Uyghur forced labor in its supply chain, though, it is not unreasonable to assume that they lobbied against the bills that would hold the company accountable.
Cover image by Gary Todd on Flickr